Book Review: Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
ISBN: 9781594485152
Pages: 320
Release Date: April 29, 2010
Publisher: Riverhead
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

When Kimberly Chang arrives in the United States with her mother from Hong Kong, she expects to find a better life with the help of her aunt.  But Kimberly’s aunt is less gracious than they’d hoped; she puts them in a filthy apartment in an almost-condemned building in New York City, one with no heat.  Kimberly’s mother works in a factory under difficult conditions, with most of her salary eaten away by her “debt” to her sister.  Kimberly realizes that the best way out of this nightmare is by getting an education, but first she most overcome social and cultural hurdles as well as a language barrier in order to succeed.

Review:

Girl in Translation is an expertly written, pitch-perfect coming of age novel.  When the novel begins Kimberly is a shy, middle school-aged girl who doesn’t know what to think of this new country she finds herself in.  She doesn’t understand English well enough to keep up at school, and her teacher seems to intentionally make her life difficult.  For awhile, Kimberly considers giving up, but when she sees how hard her mother is working at the factory to give her a better life, Kimberly knows she must do everything she can to succeed.  Her drive and determination is admirable, especially considering the obstacles she faces.

The beauty of Girl in Translation is watching Kimberly grow up.  While she never forgets how much her mother is sacrificing to make her life better, Kimberly can’t help but resent their circumstances.  Why must she work at the factory after school instead of hanging out with friends, like a normal person?  Why do they have to live in such squalor, a place where she can’t bring her best friend?  I absolutely loved how Kwok balanced Kimberly’s unique circumstances with the normal thoughts and difficulties of becoming a teenager.  It’s so realistic and nuanced, and Kimberly will capture the reader’s heart from beginning to end.

The difficulties Kimberly and her mother must face are heartbreaking, and it brings into sharp focus how privileged so many of us are.  Kimberly doesn’t have any opportunities handed to her; she must make her own way.  But the genius of the novel is how inspirational it is.  While Kimberly faces some very difficult issues, this book never feels like it contains too much sorrow because it has one very bright spot: Kimberly herself.  Watching her succeed, against all odds, is so heartwarming and wonderful that it makes the book a complete joy to read.

I can’t say enough great things about Girl in Translation.  It’s such a captivating book, readers will find themselves emotionally invested in Kimberly’s future.  Her successes will make them feel triumphant, while her mistakes will have readers trying to reach into the pages, wanting to give her some comfort.  Kwok’s prose is expertly written; I have trouble believing this is a debut novel because it’s so well-crafted.  I enjoyed this novel from beginning to end and look forward to seeing what Kwok does next.

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Comments

  1. This was one of my favorites last year!

  2. This was one of my favorites last year!

  3. I have heard many wonderful things about this book. I have no idea why I haven’t attempted to read it. Excellent review!

  4. I have heard many wonderful things about this book. I have no idea why I haven’t attempted to read it. Excellent review!

  5. I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. Sounds like something I’d love.

  6. I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. Sounds like something I’d love.

  7. I love immigrant stories and the fact that this is told from the point of view of a child makes it all the more appealing to me.

  8. I love immigrant stories and the fact that this is told from the point of view of a child makes it all the more appealing to me.

  9. I loved this book as well and thought that Kwok did an amazing job telling her story in a way that I could relate to and sympathize with. I was so mad at the aunt and uncle though! It was a really great read for me too, and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I also can’t wait to see what’s next for this author!

  10. I loved this book as well and thought that Kwok did an amazing job telling her story in a way that I could relate to and sympathize with. I was so mad at the aunt and uncle though! It was a really great read for me too, and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I also can’t wait to see what’s next for this author!

  11. Oh, this book is so wonderful! You’re right: the real genius is watching Kimberly grow, change and mature. I was so invested in her story and absolutely wanted to punch her greedy relatives. Her mom was such an inspirational figure, and I thought the love story was great. A fabulous book!

  12. Oh, this book is so wonderful! You’re right: the real genius is watching Kimberly grow, change and mature. I was so invested in her story and absolutely wanted to punch her greedy relatives. Her mom was such an inspirational figure, and I thought the love story was great. A fabulous book!

  13. I still haven’t made time for this one! I’ll have to put it in my 2012 pile. Glad you loved it:-)

  14. I still haven’t made time for this one! I’ll have to put it in my 2012 pile. Glad you loved it:-)

  15. I also enjoyed this book very much. here is my short review: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/girl-in-translation/

  16. I also enjoyed this book very much. here is my short review: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/girl-in-translation/

  17. I got the audiobook of this to listen to … thinking it was “Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven,” which is a very different book but with a similar cover. I’m glad to hear it is worth reading!

  18. I got the audiobook of this to listen to … thinking it was “Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven,” which is a very different book but with a similar cover. I’m glad to hear it is worth reading!

  19. I have had this book for ages… I really must get around to reading it!

  20. I have had this book for ages… I really must get around to reading it!

  21. Can’t wait to check this book out! What a beautiful cover, too.

  22. Can’t wait to check this book out! What a beautiful cover, too.

  23. I really enjoyed this book as well so am so happy that someone else liked it! I believed in the characters, cared about their lives and enjoyed the relationships

  24. I really enjoyed this book as well so am so happy that someone else liked it! I believed in the characters, cared about their lives and enjoyed the relationships

  25. Thanks so much for this wonderful review and I’m also very grateful to the other readers for their kind comments! It especially means a lot to me right now because I’m trying to finish my next book before Christmas – it’s about a poor Chinatown girl who winds up as a professional ballroom dancer. Her little sister is sick and our heroine soon realizes winning a prestigious dance competition is the only way she’ll be able to earn the money to save her little sister, and herself.

    I am filled with self-doubt at this stage of the process (no one’s read it, trying to pull the final draft into shape) so it’s extremely nice to have your encouragement!

    I’ve linked to this review on my Facebook fan page:
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jean-Kwok/213583280524

    Thanks once again!

    Warmly,
    Jean Kwok

  26. Thanks so much for this wonderful review and I’m also very grateful to the other readers for their kind comments! It especially means a lot to me right now because I’m trying to finish my next book before Christmas – it’s about a poor Chinatown girl who winds up as a professional ballroom dancer. Her little sister is sick and our heroine soon realizes winning a prestigious dance competition is the only way she’ll be able to earn the money to save her little sister, and herself.

    I am filled with self-doubt at this stage of the process (no one’s read it, trying to pull the final draft into shape) so it’s extremely nice to have your encouragement!

    I’ve linked to this review on my Facebook fan page:
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jean-Kwok/213583280524

    Thanks once again!

    Warmly,
    Jean Kwok

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