Girl in Translation
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Girl in Translation

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  24,929 ratings  ·  3,520 reviews
Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more di...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 29th 2010 by Riverhead
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Jean Kwok
Feb 20, 2010 Jean Kwok rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)
You probably don't want to listen to my rating, because I'm just a bit biased. However, I'd like to thank everyone who's posted here. Whether you love the book or hate it doesn't matter, I'm just glad you've taken the time to read it.
I've never read a book that described more accurately what it is like to be an Asian American immigrant.

It's like Ms. Kwok took pieces of my own experience (growing up in a cockroach-infested apartment with parents scraping by by working multiple menial jobs), and lines lifted from my friends' stories (calling an eraser a rubber, telling parents report cards came out only at the end of the year) and merged them with a thrilling and thoroughly absorbing story.

The novel takes the Chinese immigrant...more
I'm very hesitant to review this book, mostly because I'm not quite sure how to put to words what it is that reading this has made me feel.

It is at once both very familiar, and yet completely foreign. The Cantonese, the way that the author translates the slang and the phrases, the cultural traditions, the deeply embedded lifestyle that is Chinese pride and saving face...when I read about that, it was like something sparked in my blood. This part, I understand, and I have lived.

But then there's t...more
Aug 24, 2014 Ami rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ami by: Sabrina and Oprah's Summer Reads
It's as if Jean Kwok and Nicholas Sparks made sweet love and had a literary baby named "Girl in Translation." This book is yet another coming of age novel that fails to set itself apart within its genre.

Kimberly, a Chinese immigrant, moves to Brooklyn, New York, with her mother. Speaking minimal English, when she arrives, Kimberly begins to navigate her way through a new school, city and culture, enduring through hardships left and right. They live in a condemned apartment building; work in a s...more
Somehow, I managed to finish this book, though I complained about it the entire time (I know, my own fault, I should have shut up or stopped reading it). I could not understand the rave reviews about it and couldn't fathom that people had read the same book that I was reading until I realized a consistent flaw in how we review both books and film: too often, people are praising the story itself rather than the telling of the story. Which is what I believe happened with this book. I suffered thro...more
Tara Chevrestt
Apr 03, 2010 Tara Chevrestt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Tara by: Janet
Remember the popular song in the 90s, It's a Hard Knock Life? That song kept popping into my head as I read this novel. For Kimberly, a Chinese immigrant residing in the slums of Brooklyn, it's a hard knock life indeed. Her mother and her come from Hong Kong when Kimberly is approximately eleven years of age and fully dependent on Aunt Paula, a jealous relative, they find themselves living intimately with roaches and rats in a garbage-bag-in-place-of-windows, illegal apartment with no heat or ai...more
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to America, they are forced to reside in a cheap Brooklyn apartment with no heating and a copious amount of mice and roaches. To survive their horrible living conditions and financial struggles Kimberly works with her mother at a sweatshop in the afternoon while attending school in the daytime. Despite her initial inability to speak English, Kimberly works her way up to the top of the class in order to secure a better life. But when she...more
The first half of the book had great potential. I spent most of it anxiously waiting for the author to delve into the psychological and social trials that a poor, immigrant Chinese girl would naturally encounter while balancing life at a sweatshop and life at a private high school. However, the author never really explored any of those emotions meaningfully and resorted to some quick and dirty methods to resolve the story at the end. The latter half of the book rapidly degenerated into a contriv...more
This was a really good read. A mom and daughter immigrate to America and endure hardships working in a sweatshop owned by a relative. It's about a girl who is smart as a whip who is finding her way to save her and her mother by getting an education. It's a story of survival. Good character development and an interesting perspective. Unbelievable that such conditions did exist. I think her story is one of many stories of these immigrants who were taken advantage of and didn't have the knowledge o...more
Ive read this book twice now, once on my own and several years later for book group. Both times I had the same experience. I just love the first half of so when she is younger and they are struggling to learn English and American ways. As she assimilates I find my attention moving to anger at the heartless aunt who has them in virtual bondage, living in a condemned building without heat, working 12 or more hours a day. Kim is a hard working student struggling to balance her school and economic d...more
Matthew Lippart
I see I'm against the grain here, but I was not into this book AT ALL. I read it for my Kinshasa book club- if not for that I would have stopped halfway through. The story is the most average, unsurprising "coming of age" tale I have ever read. The fact that the girl grows up working in a sweat shop would have been shocking if I was as naive as the main character's best friend, Annette. And the love of her life made no sense. She kept calling him beautiful, talked about what a wonderful person h...more
Girl in Translation is a walk in the shoes of Kimberly, a child immigrant caught in an exploitative labor trap upon arriving in America from Hong Kong. Because she is a uniquely gifted child, there is a chance of Kim escaping her crushing reality.

Her story compassionately explores why and how she and others make momentous choices, and leads us to the brink of a pivotal moment in Kim's life.

I liked the humanity of the characters. Most of Kim's confusion - at being immersed in a strange culture -...more
In all honesty, this book was too short for me. the beginning, I liked, but in the end, i was really dissappointed. It made me go, "What?" because i mean, she was this good girl at the beginning, but suddenly became a boy crazy girl in the end. This really confused me. When she started getting interested in boys, the author failed to explain very much about it. Such as her first kiss or such. The author just said, "I got excighted because I was doing something my mother told me not to." but why?...more
Weird and disappointing to have the exact same reaction to two consecutive novels (both on Amazon's list of best books of 2010, incidentally) -- the story had potential, but was told way too superficially. Only this book was actually less enjoyable for me than Secret Daughter, the last book I read.

I felt like I'd read this story many times before. Eleven-year-old Kimberly emigrates from Hong Kong to the U.S. with her impoverished widowed mother in seek of a better life; the two struggle with adv...more
I should probably bring this book down to a 3 for how terrible the end is. And clearly the characterizations of everyone except our narrator are fairly unsubtle. But I was completely engrossed in the details of this story of growing up dreadfully poor in Brooklyn a generation ago, a Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the late 20th Century. Kwok's tale really grabs you, and if you have a hard time crediting some of the details, the deeper unease is with the undeniable fact that the world she portrays - p...more
I can't do justice to this book, you need to read it for yourself. A novel told in the first person, it is a simple story. Eleven-year old Kim Chang and her mother come to Brooklyn from Hong Kong while they can. They work hard, live in desperate poverty, and are hurt by the family already in Brooklyn who should be helping them. Kim tries to be a good student despite the language barrier and students and teachers who treat her badly and contemptuously. After school, she helps her mother in her il...more
Tim "The Enchanter"
While looking at the upcoming release from Jean Kwok, I went back to my review and decided to update it. I have increased the rating from 4 to 5 stars as this is one of a few novels that has stayed with me a couple of years after reading.

I actually obtained this book for my wife as it was on a "top twenty books a woman should read" list. Having found it on such a list, I assumed that it would be some form of "chick-lit". Needing something to read and finding the synopsis to be interesting, I rea...more
Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang, an eleven-year old girl who arrives in Brooklyn from Hong Kong with her widowed mother. Their immigration has been arranged and paid for by Aunt Paula, her mother’s older sister. They are hopeful -- and why not? America is the country where dreams come true.

Every novel needs a villain and here it’s Aunt Paula who takes on the role. Having paid for bringing her sister and niece to America, she now feels they owe her total obedience for the rest...more
Exactly the kind of book I enjoy: immigrant family, conflicts between cultures, love story. I enjoyed it very much.
For a Full and Edited review go to: Blame It On The Book

“What were my chances? I was just a poor girl whose main practical skill was bagging skirts faster than normal.”

I’ve wanted to read this one since the first time I saw it, but it always kept getting pushed down. I finally made time for it and it’s one thing I’ll never regret. It’s the kind of book you can’t put down because you can completely immerse yourself in both the main characters life and thoughts. Before I begin I do want to apol...more
I bought this because I enjoy immigrant fiction: it often gives interesting insights into American or British life, and I'm an immigrant myself. And for about two-thirds of this book, I was not disappointed. But then … Ah Kim (Kimberly) turns into a teenager. She's been granted a full scholarship at an exclusive New York secondary school despite living in an appalling slum with her widowed mother who works all the hours God sends in a garment sweatshop in Chinatown run by her elder sister and br...more
Jun 07, 2010 Felice rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Amy Tan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

First novels, coming of age novels and the immigrant experience novels are all two a penny and when all three types are blended into one novel it's..... Well it's still nothing new. Precisely because these novels are so prevalent I think that they more than any other kind of fiction they demand good writing to succeed and stand out. They can have great characters, interesting plot lines, hell they can even have ponies but without strong writing behind it all they turn into yet another of more o...more
Teresa Lukey
This is a favorite for me. I listened to the audiobook and, if you can, I highly suggest that be the way you "read" this book. The narrator does a fantastic job with the Chinese accent.

Having grown up in a lower income area in the 80's I had the opportunity to be around many Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese families newly immigrated to the US. I remember the way these people were treated, with uncertainty and sometimes just downright rudeness. Unfortunately, its much the same way the ea...more
I have mixed feelings about this book overall, so I'm giving it three stars.
The pace of this book felt uneven to me, and I was sometimes surprised by the author's decisions about which events to include and exclude from the writing. For instance, we read over and over about the importance of Kimberly's naturalization test, but then we never read how it goes on the day of the naturalization test or any day thereafter. It may have been difficult for the author to cull a girl's experiences over a n...more
Dec 06, 2010 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: see review
Recommended to Dan by: Amy L. Campbell
Note: This review is of an advance uncorrected proof. There may be changes to the final publication.

First, I'd like to state that I was very heartbroken when, about 100 pages into this novel, I read the book jacket closely and realized that this was not a memoir. It was very disappointing. This realization, however, did not keep me from enjoying this thoroughly engrossing work of fiction.

I can't say what it was about the writing, but I was sucked into Kim's struggles pretty much from page one. I...more
I’m not sure why this book has garnered such buzz and great reviews. The writing is straightforward and easy to read, but far from being literature. This book seems to belie the fact the author has an MFA in fiction, or perhaps this is all it takes to get an MFA in fiction from Columbia these days-I don’t know. Perhaps the book should have been categorized as YA since it seems to have been written for an eighth grade reading level. I was especially annoyed by the use of italics to start each new...more
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Linda Day
I rarely give a 2 because I think anyone who gets a book published deserves a pat on the back ! And I rarely give a 5 because that would indicate extraordinary ! And this book is a definite 5 because it is really one step beyond even extraordinary ! It will probably be my Book of 2010 as The Guernsey Literary Society was my Book of '08, and The Help my Book of '09 !

Kimberly Chang and her Ma come to America from China to obtain all the good things our country promises to legal immigrants, and the...more
Kat Alexander
Apr 04, 2010 Kat Alexander rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ariel, those who love a good story.
Recommended to Kat by: Acquired free from the publisher.
It's been a while since I've had nothing to say flat-out about a book. Already I'm forming my argument for why my bibliophile friend should put down her (I'm sure simply fascinating ) book about... whatever she's reading right now, be it the rise of Communism or Neil Gaiman, and read this book.

I think I'll settle with force, as at eleven pm after having spent the best part of the last six hours (with breaks for insignificant things such as, you know, eating) reading, I can't properly think up...more
Meegan McCorkle
I'm embarrassed by how shocked I felt to realize just how hard conditions are for some new immigrants: the cruelty of sweatshops and a slum-landlord- owned apartment without heat, in a roach and rat infested, abandoned building. The author herself worked in a sweatshop as a child, so those descriptions are grounded in reality. Your heart breaks for young Kimberly, but as a result, you cheer her successes even harder. Her double life as a scholarship student in an exclusive private school by day...more
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2014 Reading Chal...: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok 6 33 Jul 19, 2014 05:46PM  
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Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia. In between her degrees, she worked for three years as a profes...more
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“What a relationship looks like on the outside isn't the same as what it's like on the inside. You can be more in love with someone in your mind than with the person you see every day.” 158 likes
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