Janice's Reviews > Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
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's review
Dec 18, 11

liked it
Read in December, 2011

Clear, straightforward prose and an interesting story, though it gets a little soap-operaish at the end. Gives me some insight into a world I haven't known much about (though I should), a Chinese sweatshop in Brooklyn. The narrator and main character, Kimberly Chang, arrives in New York with her mother, a widow, who sees no future for them in Hong Kong. Rather than receive real familial assistance, though, the two are taken to a roach and rat-infested apartment by Aunt Paula (Kimberly's mother's sister) and made to work off their debt to her by working long hours in the sweatshop she runs. Good thing that Kimberly is a gifted student who survives the meanness of her Brooklyn public school and manages to get a scholarship to an elite private school. Along her way to another scholarship, to Yale, Kimberly falls in love with a boy who works at the factory and has to make a hard choice about the path her future will take. I don't really like the ending of this novel -- I don't really buy Kimberly's explanation of the choice she makes (she makes it sound unselfish, but I don't believe that it is) -- and I find Kimberly herself to be rather humorless and bland. (The lack of humor is understandable given the hardship of the life she's living, but I still find her to be rather flat in personality.) But there are some great moments in the book: Kimberly being teased at school for wearing awkwardly sewn, homemade underwear, cluelessly shopping with her mother for a bra at Macy's, bagging finished clothing -- hundreds of items per day -- in the sweaty, dust-filled factory. I also like the male characters: Curt, an artistic boy at school who rebels against and takes for granted his privileged upbringing, and Matt, the charismatic, resourceful, hunky Chinese boy she falls in love with.

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