review: Girl in Translation

21 April 2011

title: Girl in Translation
author: Jean Kwok
stars: 5+
summary from goodreads
review by Kirthi

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 difficult truths of her life--like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly's story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant--a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.


I was thrilled to learn about this book. One of my most favourite books that I love to read are cultural books on Asian and South American culture, and historical fiction. I especially love books on immigration, that show struggle, endurance, and success. It's truly inspiring, but it's been such a long time since I've read such a book. Michelle Moran's Egyptian books showed as much impact (and you know how I rant on her books!) 

 Kimberly is a genius. She's those kids to whom math and science are as easy as breathing. She's a genius that can balance horribly hard work, terrible living conditions, and struggle to live, and yet still gets the best grades in her school and fully paid scholarships. She is a strong willed girl who I now strive to be like.

 Of course, the story touches on the bullying of kids on her. Kimberly barely knows English and is very poor, both gives her classmates reasons to punish her. I connected with Kimberly's situation through my parents. Kimberly once asked her teacher for an eraser which she called "rubber" and the teacher ignored her and her classmates laughed. I remember when my Dad was working on something and he called to me and said "Do you have a rubber?" And I, who was about 10 at the time, laughed and said, "Really, Dad? It's called an eraser" 
 I know, I was cruel back then, but I stopped picking on my Dad. In Asian families, you must always respect your elders and teachers. Kimberly shared those beliefs, so you can imagine the connection I felt.

 The entire story as a whole made a huge impact. It taught of the time period, the habits and behavior of the people, and more on Chinese family and religion (Buddhism) 

 I thought that this was a young adult book, but I think it's more mature for adults. Maybe.....15 to 16 and older?

 All in all, I thought Girl in Translation was one of the best books I have ever read. And I highly recommend it!

4 thoughts:

  1. Great Review!! I loved this book too.

  2. Wow that was great. I actually picked this book up while I waited for a different one to arrive and I felt it started out really slow and then like twenty pages in, I felt that it was really picking up. Except for I had to return it, but I think I will go back and read it because there seems to be a great story there.

  3. I agree that this books sounds like a winner. It has many great elements including Kimberly's perseverance against great odds.

  4. I reviewed this book on my site as well. My personal thoughts were that Kimberly's situation was a little bit exaggerated and atypical of a Hong Kong immigrant in the 1980s (and perhaps more similar to Vietnamese refugees). Due to the very fact that Mrs. Chang was a music teacher in Hong Kong, Kimberly's lack of exposure to western culture/society just didn't seam real.

    My review is here


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