Thomas's Reviews > Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
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Aug 10, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: five-stars, historical-fiction, adult-fiction
Read from August 23 to 24, 2011

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 meets Matt, a compassionate boy who also works at the sweatshop, she'll choose between everything she's worked so ambitiously to achieve and her first love.

I'm not a stranger when it comes to immigrant experiences - my mother and father were both immigrants, and the stories they share with me motivate me to work harder. But seriously, cockroaches? I remember one dreadful description of when Kimberly could feel the mice racing across her body as she slept... gross. Yet, even though she's not allowed to have friends over and spends all of her time studying and working, Kimberly doesn't whine and give up. She does everything in her power to succeed, and she does. That's one reason why I fell in love with her voice.

That's not to say she's an over-achieving robot. Kimberly, as well as the other characters in this book, are relatable - Kimberly herself succumbs to peer pressure and other adolescent issues. I was rooting for her and felt personal satisfaction whenever she aced a test or rose above her cultural confusion.

My only complaint is that some of the romance that didn't involve Matt seemed unnecessary to the plot. I understand that it was included to show how Kimberly is just like any other girl, but I doubt she would've had time to hang out with guys after school when her mother needed her at the sweat shop.

Overall, a 4.5. Jean Kwok has crafted a fantastic debut novel that portrays the struggle of a Chinese girl growing up in the US.

*cross-posted from my blog, the quiet voice.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Sasha (new) - added it

Sasha nice review. i want to read this but just need to make time.


Thomas Thanks! That feeling is all too familiar to me.


message 3: by Cara (new) - added it

Cara I love these kind of characters, and is I think I admire them. In a story like this you can really get to see they are human as well behind all that strength. I'll have to move this up of my to-read list. Nice review:D


Thomas Yep, sometimes you can't help but root for the underdog. Thanks Cara. (:


message 5: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Great review, Thomas! Cockroaches are all too common in big cities, even in clean houses. I grew up in the Bronx and remember my mom getting upset when she found a roach scurrying over her spotlessly clean kitchen floor. I also remember not being allowed to visit one of my friends' apartments because they had a lot of roaches and my parents didn't want me to bring them home.


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