Girl in Translation: Touching But Flawed

BlogHer Review

Girl in Translation, the debut novel by Jean Kwok is the story of a girl, Kimberly Chang, and her widowed mother who come to the United States from Hong Kong seeking a better life. Unfortunately, they find their dreams more difficult to realize than they ever thought possible.

Kimberly is 11 years old when she and her mother end up in a squalid Brooklyn apartment, and working in a sweatshop where child labor and dangerous working conditions are the norm. But because they owe her aunt and uncle for their passage to America, and are unfamiliar with their surroundings, they don’t have many choices.

Kimberly struggles to learn English, fit in at school and learn the customs of her new country. She excels at math and science and hopes that a good education will be her ticket out of poverty.

I love that this story represents the diversity of coming-of-age experiences that can be found in America. The storytelling is descriptive and Kwok uses some effective techniques, such as when Kimberly translates the price of everyday items into how many skirts she would have to finish at the factory to pay for them: “The subway was 100 skirts just to get to the factory and back, a package of gum cost 7 skirts, a hot dog was 50 skirts.”

However, my problem with the book is there is almost no drama or tension. The story is semi-autobiographical and it may have needed more fiction. For example, Kimberly and her mother work brutally hard and the apartment they live in is horrific, but those experiences aren’t reinforced with a compelling plot.

Others may be less frustrated than I was with the book and find it touching, but I was left wanting more.

Megan Smith is a BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television and Movies. Her personal blog is Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock.


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