Girl in Translation Is a Phenomenal Work of Fiction

BlogHer Review

If I were to describe Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation in a word, it would be this: phenomenal.

Kwok has created a noteworthy work of semi-autobiographical fiction, easily taking us along for the ride as 11-year-old Kimberly Chang immigrates from Hong Kong to Brooklyn with her mother. What is so amazing to me about Girl in Translation is that it felt relatable to me, when by all accounts it should not have been.

Kimberly lives an impossibly impoverished life and is forced to work for hours in her aunt's sweatshop after school, while managing to be a truly exceptional student. She struggles with the cultural differences of being the only Asian student in many of her classes, not to mention the poorest. Me? I grew up an up an upper middle class girl in the Midwest. An honor-roll student, sure, but obviously I was hardly dealing with anything remotely touching her struggles or achievements. But Kwok’s inclusion of common coming-of-age themes -- first love, struggles with your mother not getting it, and the awkward dance between attempting to fit in and being confident in yourself -- had me reminiscing about my own teenage years and feeling like Kimberly could have been a friend.

And this is where I think Kwok is a genius author -- she takes what might have been a bitterly sad novel and gives you an almost Judy Blume-like tale for adults. It’s a smart book that unfolds easily and naturally and I flew through the pages. You will be cheering for Kimberly as she slowly makes her way out of her oppressive situation and is able to excel scholastically. Like a grown-up Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, you will be walking in Kimberly’s shoes the entire way. It’s been a while since I felt so immersed in a character.

One interesting plot twist about this novel is that you know the ending right off the bat and you can feel the metaphorical train coming, about to collide, and you wish you could do anything to stop it. And yet you walk away from this story feeling surprised and satisfied with how it works out.

Girl in Translation was a refreshing breath of fresh air and I was sad when it ended. I implore you to check it out for yourself.

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