Girl in Translation: Between Two Worlds

BlogHer Review

Sometimes someone can surprise you with the life they live behind the scenes -- in just how different it is from the life you see them live every day. Such is the story with Kimberly Chang, the heroine in Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok's semi-autobiographical novel about a Chinese immigrant girl from Hong Kong living in New York.

By day, Kimberly excels at her new school, winning awards in math and science even when she can barely speak English. She quickly rises through the ranks of her class, eventually winning a scholarship to a prestigious private prep school, and the social life to match. However, to her friends and school and her one true friend, Annette, her home life is a different story. Kimberly lives with her mother in run-down poverty of a level you couldn’t believe in Brooklyn, and spends every spare second helping her mother work at a sweatshop her aunt manages.

The book is rapid and extremely readable, something that often doesn't come easy in semi-autobiographical novels. Kowk, who herself was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States to work in a sweatshop along with her own family, weaves an intricate story of another version of the “American dream” that we so often take for granted. In one scene Annette says to Kimberly, upon seeing her living in squalor in an apartment with nothing for heat through the brutal New York winters but an open oven door, “No one in America lives like this.”

The life Kimberly lives at her fancy, private school is in such complete odds with how she survives at home, making decisions no child should need to.

An interesting telling of another side of American history, Girl in Translation will keep you interested until the end, and then surprise you with multiple twists that you honestly didn’t see happening. It's a very eloquent book about the dichotomy that can exist when you live between two opposing worlds.


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