Wednesday, June 9, 2010

#BookReview: Girl in Translation - Jean Kwok

"What is it like to be surrounded every day by a language and culture you only half understand?  How would it change your life?"

Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang and her mother, recent immigrants to the United States from Hong Kong.  With airfare and visas bought and paid for by her aunt and uncle, Kimberly and her mother must live and work in less than perfect conditions until their debts have been paid.  Though she speaks little English, Kimberly is determined to build a better life for herself.

While attending a local public school, teachers notice that while her English needs improvement, she has a natural talent for both math and science.  Kimberly continues to work on her English while at the same time working in her family's clothing factory in Chinatown.  It is at the factory that she meets Matt, the eldest son of another family of immigrants.  Matt's mother is sickly and his younger brother is disabled, so responsibility for the family rests on his shoulders.

Kimberly begins to thrive in school, even as her aunt continues to try keeping her and her mother in their place.  I found myself getting angry when reading about the conditions that the aunt forces Kimberly and mother to both live and work in.  Though she leads an above average life herself, the aunt has them staying in a vacant building in Brooklyn with rats and roaches and pays them a pitiful salary of 1 1/2 cent per dress.  In addition, she deducts the cost of their airfare, rent (for the abandoned building), etc. from this meager salary.   It would seem that her goal was to keep them as indentured servants for the rest of their lives.

With the help of her friends and caring school administrators, Kimberly's goal of building a better life almost seems to be possible.

What did you like about this book?
From the first paragraph, this book pulls you in and won't let you go.  It was a delightful and fascinating read.

What did you dislike about this book?
I didn't dislike anything, but I did find the ending shocking.

What could the author do to improve this book?
There is a gap of 12 years that I would like to see covered. I'm not sure that the author is working on a sequel, but with some of the loose ends left by the close of the book, I would love to read one.

Published April 2010

Theme: America by Neil Diamond


  1. Based on your review, I'll have to check this one out.

  2. I think you'll really like it. Even though she and her mother are from Hong Kong, it's a story that could easily be told by any immigrant child. If you read it, let me know what you think.