A second-generation Chinese American, Jen was raised in the large Jewish community of Scarsdale, New York. She received a degree in English from Harvard University, and published her first novel, In the American Society, in 1986. The quirky Chang family first appeared in her novel Typical American (1991), and again in the sequel, Mona in the Promised Land (1996). Her novels and short stories frequently revisit the American dream, and her characters puzzle out their ethnic identity in touching, comic ways (like the title character in Mona in the Promised Land, who decides to convert to Judaism to her family's dismay). One of the short stories from Who's Irish? (1999) also appeared in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Her third novel, The Love Wife, exploring a racially-mixed family, appeared in 2004. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her family.