Catherine's Reviews > Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
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's review
Jan 05, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: fluff, immigration
Read in September, 2011

Kimberly Chang and her widowed mother emigrate from China to New York City to work in a garment sweatshop owned by her mother’s sister Paula. They owe a seemingly never-ending debt to Paula for medical care, travel, and their roach-infested apartment. Kimberly takes the subway alone each day from school to the sweatshop, where she and many other Chinese children help their parents meet the work quota. Kimberly must meet her mother’s strict expectations at home, while slowly learning to fit in at school. Despite limited English skills, Kimberly excels in school and wins a scholarship to a private secondary school.

The book grew on me towards the end; there were some things in the first half that I found annoying. Words Kimberly couldn’t understand were in italics, phonetically spelled the way she heard them. There might have been a better way to convey this, particularly because each section within a chapter also led off with italics. Of course, as Kimberley’s English improved this occurred less often.

Their living situation was never explained to my satisfaction. It was hinted that the apartment they lived in could not be legally occupied – they were the sole tenants of the building – but the apartment had electricity and later telephone and mail service. I know this was meant to convey that they were afraid to speak up or complain, but I found the contradictions distracting.

The story was well written in terms of the hardships impoverished immigrants can face, even today. I liked the way Kimberley set goals and made them her priority, and her voice was authentic as she progressed from child to adult.
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Tracy I'm so glad you liked it!

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