Girl in Translation is Not a Fairy Tale

BlogHer Review

Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok , tells the semi-autobiographical story about a girl named Kimberly Chang and her mother who emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. Due to family debts from the immigration and a lack of employment, her mother begins working in a sweatshop. Kimberly must help her mother in order to make any money, forcing her to lead a double life, one of an exceptionally bright schoolgirl in the day and a sweatshop worker by night. This is the story of her childhood and the struggles of life in America, which was not as wonderful as she was promised. 

I was surprised at how quickly I tore through the pages of this book. I kept hoping for Kimberly that things would get better for her and her mother. All of the details that Kwok gives made it hard for me to believe that this novel was not a memoir. I thought the first two thirds of the story was very strong, and I enjoyed the way that Kwok would use phonetic sounds to describe what she thought people were saying to her as she learned the English language colloquialisms and accents. It made me look at just how difficult it would be to live in America with English as a second language. Some of my favorite details were the Chinese sayings she included with explanation and the descriptions of the food. I found the descriptions of the sweatshop so realistic they was almost hard to read, which made the book all the more enthralling. The book also covered Kimberly's schooling and how she was such a naturally smart child, even though there were many that doubted her abilities; I was glad to see that she excelled in school despite the hardships she faced.  

The last third of the book covered Kimberly's high school years and became more of a romantic story. Without giving too much away, I will say that this part of the book was a little disappointing for me, especially with the way that she dealt with consequences of her actions. I do like that the book does not give a perfect fairy tale ending or make Kimberly perfect in her actions. That being said, I was still hoping for that ending, particularly since her childhood was so difficult.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, it was definitely a page turner, and I enjoyed reading about Kimberly and her childhood overcoming adversity.

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