Girl in Translation: Discovering Her Voice

BlogHer Review

When someone is forced to live in two different worlds, is it possible for her to truly fit into either of them? Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok follows Kimberly Chang as she and her mother struggle to fulfill the promise of success in America.

Eleven-year-old Kimberly and her mother leave their life in Hong Kong to come to America, and Kimberly immediately misses the simple but familiar life they left behind. Intelligent and perceptive, she settles into her role as the voice of her family of two. Soon, she is excelling at school during the day and tirelessly working with her mother in a sweatshop at night.

Girl in Translation focuses on Kimberly’s struggle to find a path between the two cultures that she inhabits: the oppressive, loyalty-bound culture of her youth and the hopeful culture of America, where her innate intelligence and fierce work ethic allow her the opportunity to dream about a better life for her and her mother.

Kimberly’s story is both heart-breaking and engaging. The harsh working conditions and squalor in which she and her mother live are perpetuated by family members holding them hostage with the debt of medical bills and their passage to the United States. Still, Kimberly’s virtues and faults work together to make her a spirited, believable heroine. She knows she will eventually persevere, and her belief in herself buoys the reader above the despair that could be felt for both Kimberly and Mrs. Chang.

Flanked on one side by new friends, Annette and Curt, and on the other by Matt, a fellow immigrant and sweatshop worker, Kimberly is forced to shift seamlessly between two separate halves of her life. What transpires between Kimberly and Matt forces her to make a decision about which life she wants to live. When faced with such a choice, Kimberly rejects the tenants of both cultures and blazes her own path, one forged by love and belief in her own strength.

Whether or not you agree with the decisions that Kimberly makes about her life, it’s almost impossible to judge her. With her intelligence, tenacity, and immense capacity for love, she clings to your heart like the ever-present fibers of the sweatshop where she spent so many hours working for her freedom.


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