Girl in Translation: The Story of a Young Girl's Desire to Strive for Success

BlogHer Review

What would you do if you found yourself living in a foreign country in the middle of winter, in a run-down apartment with broken windows, cockroaches, rats and no heat? Now imagine you are a young girl who has moved from Hong Kong with her mother and speaks very little English. How would you cope with the situation and what would you do to escape it?

Kimberly Chang, from Jean Kwok's novel, Girl in Translation, finds herself living with that very predicament. The story revolves around the life of a young, immigrant girl, (Kimberly), who leaves Hong Kong with her mother in search of a better life in America. The two are indebted to Kimberly’s aunt and uncle who helped them come to the United States. Unfortunately, the bitter and jealous aunt places Kimberly and her mother in an uninhabited apartment that is not fit for human life.

The two newfound immigrants manage to survive the winter by wrapping garbage bags around the windows and keeping the gas stove lit all day and night. They sleep on a bed covered by clothing they brought with them to America and eventually end up making bedding from teddy bear material they find in the garbage of a neighboring toy-making shop. It is the only thing that keeps them from freezing to death.

In order to repay their debts, Kimberly and her mom work in a Chinatown sweatshop owned by her aunt. They are paid only a few pennies per item and are beyond poor.

When Kimberly starts school, she is unable to complete much of her homework. Her teachers ask her to listen to the news or read the newspaper, but Kimberly spends every afternoon working beside her mother at the factory, so she cannot watch television and her mother cannot afford a newspaper. She is so poor that she cannot buy markers and construction paper to complete her assignments.

In Hong Kong, Kimberly was the brightest student in her class, but she knows very little English and initially struggles to find her way through the classrooms of an underprivileged school district. However, she knows deep down that her mother cannot learn English and will never get out of the factory if Kimberly does not create a better life for them. She must seek a higher level of education in order to be freed of their current circumstances.

But life is never that easy and Kimberly is torn between the quest for higher education and a boy she meets me in the factory. As they grow older, the love of her life tells Kimberly he wants to live a simple life in Chinatown where he can take care of the money and his wife. But Kimberly has lived the life of poverty and she wants a better future for her and her mother.

I won’t spoil the ending of this story for you, but I will say that it was completely unexpected. I really enjoyed Jean Kwok’s characters and as the book came to a close I cried for Kimberly.

This story is about immigration, poverty and the dire circumstances that lead one to dream and strive for a better life. Kwok brings Kimberly’s story to life in a way that will have you wishing the story were longer.