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Girl in Translation

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  46,553 ratings  ·  5,687 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
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published April 29th 2010 by Riverhead
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Average rating 3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  46,553 ratings  ·  5,687 reviews

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Jean Kwok
Feb 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  (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.
Apr 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
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
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5. I read Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok at a time when I read little fiction. I found the book at one of my favorite places- the check out counter at the library- and grabbed it because of its vivid colored cover.
In this debut novel, Kwok tells the story of Kimberly Chang and her mother, immigrants from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. Forced to live in a condemned apartment and work in horrid conditions because their sponsor, Kimberley's aunt, feels as though they are burden on society, Kimberly gr
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was such a delightful read that I put off all the other things I was supposed to be doing today and read it in one sitting:) It is Saturday after all and I think I deserved a treat!
It is a wonderful tale of a Chinese mother and daughter who migrate to America and find it not to be the land of plenty they had dreamed of. I thought the author handled it perfectly in particular the way she presents the daughter's struggle with the English language. However smart she is, however hard she tries
Nov 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've been in a really weird place with books lately. Over the past weeks I've read a lot of books and so far no one has been affective enough to motivate me to go raving. I'm on what you can refer to as the eternal hunt. But what can I say?

I read Girl in Translation after reading Nina's little convincing review - which you can read here if you like(Thank you Nina!). Now while Girl in Translation didn't really ensorcell me, it did do something. The story of Kimberly - Ah Kim - Chang is a very hon
Iryna *Book and Sword*
3.5/5 stars rounded up

“There's a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown. I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions.”

If you are an immigrant who came to United States - read this book.
If you are a person who thinks of migrating to United St
Mar 15, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Tara Chevrestt
Feb 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookgroup
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
Nina (Every Word A Doorway)
An insightful debut about immigration, hardship, and striving for education and success against all odds, enveloped by a tentative love story.

Threre's a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. Those who are strong-willed may fight thestorm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown. I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions.

Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
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
~ A rather bookish
This book was just okay for me. It tells the story of a young girl immigrating to Brooklyn from Hong Kong. Essentially, this is a coming of age story, that I think was supposed to make me feel something, but it most definitely failed, in that sense.

The characters were not described in a lot of detail, and that bothered me. I was expecting to find out more about the characters, but I was left feeling rather detached from them.

Halfway through the book, I felt like the author had lost her way a li
Nov 14, 2016 rated it liked it
*In person book club read #2.*

I liked this debut overall. I came off it feeling a message that family is there to help with the big life changing events, but when it comes to day to day survival, ya gotta have friends, as Bette Midler would say.

It is told from the perspective of Kimberly, fresh off the boat with her mother from Hong Kong, and placed by her aunt (evil woman) in a condemned NYC apartment with no heat but plenty of cockroaches and rats. Neither spoke much English, but Kimberly's sp
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a super sweet story about a subject I can't get enough of: a mother and daughter starting their life in America after immigrating from China. It is told from the daughter's perspective, Kim, and covers the sacrifices her mother made to bring her to New York, the abysmal (and illegal) living situations they endured, and their ultimate triumph.

This is a quick read, but I took my time listening to the audiobook performance during my lunch break walks. I particularly enjoyed the voice of "
“Sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.”

What a beautiful, bittersweet, and moving book. Girl in Translation is not an comforting story, but the various colorful characters and Kimberly’s determination to succeed pulled me through.

This novel is a harsh check to the charming “American Dream” stories. When Kimberly Chang and her mother immigrate to America, they don’t find a better future, but an apartment filled with roaches and work at a sweat shop.
Kwok nev
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I really liked this book, a lot. Hence how I was able to finish it in a single sitting. It was very interesting. The story revolves around an Chinese mother/daughter duo's immigration from Hong Kong to New York. The book focuses on the experiences of culture clash, isolation and all the other difficulties they go through to adapt to the strange new world they find themselves in. Perhaps I resonated with this so strongly because both of my parent's were immigrants, it was because of the
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Tim The Enchanter
Jul 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
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
May 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bam cooks the books ;-)
*3.5 stars rounded up.

**Jean Kwok is one of the authors who will be attending the National Literary Festival at St Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN on November 8 & 9, 2019:

I wanted to read at least one of Jean's books before attending the festival and chose this, her first book, which is about the Chinese immigrant experience. It reads almost like a memoir--in fact, it's often easy to forget that it is fiction.

The protagonist of the story is eleven-year-o
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was very impressed with this book. It teaches important life lessons, such as the amount of money you have or earn doesn't define who you are as a person. This is shown throughout the book as Kim and her mom make nearly pennies a day but continue to be very positive people and it doesn't stop Kim from her school studies. It was a very easy story to follow and readers never knew what was going to happen next. There are few reviews about this book on goodreads, but all of them are positive and t ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.”

Jean Kwok has managed to create an interesting and eye-opening read out of an experience that so many American immigrants have experienced within their lives. Kimberly and her mother's story is honest, shameless, and wholesome. As a child of immigrant parents, I found myself being able to relate to Kimberly on multiple levels despite being born in America. There's so much truth to Kimberly's story, and I loved reading her
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kimberly's (main character) aunt had an agreed meant with her mother, that if she helped her into the new country, Kimberly's mother will help her aunt with factory work.
The "Girl in Translation" reminds me bit like Salva after moving to America, just like Salva, Kimberly moved to America. But it wasn't just the country that had similarities, it was the cultures. Both Kimberly and Salva experiences a time of disagree meant in there own country. Kimberly was experiencing a time of hunger and pove
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Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE, GIRL IN TRANSLATION and MAMBO IN CHINATOWN. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. An instant New York Times bestseller, SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE was selected by Jenna Bush Hager for the Today Show Book Cl ...more

Articles featuring this book

I started [working in the sweatshop] when I was only five, and I remember the suffocating blanket of dust that constantly descended upon my arms...
57 likes · 4 comments
“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.” 190 likes
“Sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.” 81 likes
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