Girl in Translation Reads Loud and Clear (And I Now Have a Guilty Conscience)

BlogHer Review

I had a crisis in Forever 21 today. No, it wasn't because I couldn't find any bubblegum pink platform heels to match my new mod mini. (Note: They have stripper heels in every color!) It was because I had just finished reading Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and realized that most everything around me was likely made in a sweatshop exactly like the one she describes working in growing up in Brooklyn. To quote Kimberly, the main character, how many skirts did my shoes cost?!

The book is labeled as fiction but a little note in the back explains that it draws heavily from the author's own experiences working in a sweatshop. Ah-Kim, or Kimberly once she moves to America from Hong Kong with her mother, counts everything in "skirts" because she and her mom get paid by the piece to hang and finish clothing items, even though that's illegal on quite a few levels -- not the least of which is that Kimberly is a mere child.

Kimberly's experiences growing up in the worst kind of poverty you can imagine while simultaneously attending one of the most elite prep schools in the country (she's a genius, see) didn't necessarily relate to me but they fascinated me. I couldn't put the book down and once it was finished (yay for happy endings!) I found myself wondering what happened to Kimberly for days afterward because I had grown to care for her so much.

The romance in the novel was fun and not R-rated, the drama between Kimberly and her wicked aunt was vindicating, and the girl-bonding between her and her best friend Annette was heart-warming but the part that will stick with me the most are the vivid descriptions of sweatshop life. And as evidenced by my leaving Forever 21 (and the mall) without purchasing anything today, it's a message that will stay with me for a long time I think.

Much has been said about the problems of illegal immigrants in our country but hardly any solutions have been found and in all of it we sometimes lose sight that we're talking about real people with feelings and families and a serious fear of cockroaches. Jean Kwok refuses to let her readers forget. And I'm grateful.

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