All I Can Say About Girl in Translation is "Wow!"

BlogHer Review

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is one of the most compelling, captivating books I have read in a long, long time. I haven't had an ending to a book surprise me in I don't know how long, but this one did.

Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong with the aid of her aunt, who, once she has them here, proceeds to put them in a hovel of an apartment (that they pay rent on) and employs Kimberly's mother in the sweatshop that she manages.

Kimberly is 11 when the book begins, and she comes to America as a top student from Hong Kong. She attends a subpar school in Brooklyn, but even with a teacher who opposes her and an obvious language barrier she rises above what she's been given to show her high intelligence and drive. She receives a full scholarship to a prestigious prep school, where she, basically, blows them all away with her brilliance.

Incredibly, amazingly, she does this while helping her mother every day after school in the factory. Her mother is paid 1.5 cents per skirt she processes and Kimberly's help is essential to their survival. She does this while living in an apartment with no heat, with roaches and mice vying for the tiny amount of food that Kimberly and her mother have.

Ms. Kwok's writing is such that I more than merely empathized with Kimberly. She became a part of me. I could not put this book down and when I was finished I couldn't get her out of my head. I believe this is not only because Ms. Kwok is a very fine writer but because, once you read her brief bio on the back cover, you realize that Kimberly is really Jean. And then you just can't imagine that it could be true, that this life is lived by people in this day in our country. Remarkable.

Oh and yes there is romance of course, and that surprise ending, but you'll have to read the book for that!


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