Rummanah Aasi
  I have read lots of rave reviews of Jean Kwok's debut novel, A Girl in Translation, on the blogosphere as well as literary magazines. The premise of the story caught my interest and found a copy of the book at my local public library. Immigrants, new and old, will relate a lot to this incredible story based on some of the author's personal experiences. 

Description: Kimberly Chang and her mother have immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn in the 1980s with the help of Kim's Aunt Paula. As a result, they are are forced to work for Aunt Paula in a Chinatown clothing factory earning one and a half cent per item they make in order to repay their debts. With barely enough to keep them alive and living in a dilapidated, rodent and insect infested  house house without heat, Kimberly is determined to make her and her mother's life better. 

Review: There are many immigrant stories told throughout the years. Their struggles with culture shock and poverty are nothing new, but nonetheless familiar. What sets apart Girl in Translation is the voice and strength of the main character, Kimberly Chang. Kim is a very smart girl who is practical, incredibly intelligent, hard working, loyal, and a dutiful daughter. She knows her limits in terms of her poverty and learning a new culture that is completely different from her own, yet she is resolute in finding a way out of her situation as well as naive. I connected with Kim right away. I understood her desire to grab on to education as her way to gain freedom, both economically and personally. Her dutiful roles and thinking of her family mirrored my own beliefs. Although she has her own share of flaws, Kim never resorts to long term angst and anger towards her mother for their dire situation, which is mainly due to the fact that her mother is doing all that she can to survive. The book is Kim's odyssey from adolescence to womanhood.
  The writing of Girl in Translation is very simple and straightforward. I liked how Chinese proverbs and sayings are interspersed throughout the book. The anguish and plight of the Chang women are well developed and tangible. I couldn't help but root for Kimberly in her small and large victories. Just when I thought I had the book figured out, there was a big twist at the end that made me cry. Looking at Kimberly's story and knowing her personality, I don't think it could have ended any other way but it still broke my heart. Girl in Translation is an immigrant's story, a story of coming of age, of love and loss, and of dreams to achieve. It is one that you should definitely read and experience.  

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There is minimal language. Some underage drinking and drug use. There is also some allusions to sex. Although the book is marketed to adults, there are a lot of aspects of this book that would appeal to teens. I would recommend this book for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: A Step From Heaven by An Na, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, or Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
3 Responses
  1. Annette Says:

    Sounds interesting. Great review. I just wanted to add "Shanghai Girls" by Lisa See as a possible "read alike." Also, wanted to say "hi" from a fellow Illinois High School Librarian. Every time I see your name on ISLMA-Net I say "Hey! I follow her blog!"


  2. Thanks, Annette! I forgot about Lisa See's book. I'll add it to my read alike. :)


  3. Alison Says:

    I loved this book. I haven't posted my review for it yet. I think it's great YA crossover. There definitely was a big twist plot twist. The prologue ended up being so interesting.


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