Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
2010; Riverhead Hardcover


Summary

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Girl In Translation is a beautiful, thought-provoking book that captivated me from the first page of the prologue. The book starts out with the character observing a little girl sitting by a mannequin in a bridal shop, knowing exactly how her life would play out, inescapably trapped in the sweatshops of New York Chinatown. I instantly was rooting for this little girl and soon for Kimberly, the protagonist. There has to be another way; I can't bear to see either one suffer.

Kimberly Chang (11 years old) and her mother come to Brooklyn from Hong Kong with great hopes of life in America. These hopes are almost instantly dashed upon arrival. Her mother's sister runs a sweatshop and has the "kindness" to give Kimberly's mother a job and a roach-strewn, freezing apartment. To pay off her many debts to her sister, her mother has to toil in the sweatshop for long hours each day to fulfill her quota.

Kimberly has to make her own way in the world. She begins school knowing no English and nothing about America. No one will help her; not even her teacher. Only one person is kind to her - Annette, her faithful best friend. Kimberly is lucky to be gifted with extreme intelligence. She catches on to English quickly and gains admittance and a full scholarship to a prestigious private school. But she still goes to the factory each day after school to help her mother meet her quota and make enough money to survive. Her life is split into two distinct worlds, each of which are challenging. She's successful at school but everyone, including the staff, are suspicious and jealous over her amazing intelligence and skill at school. She also doesn't fit in with her wealthy classmates. At the sweatshop, Kimberly's success makes her aunt green with envy and only makes life more difficult.

I love the relationship between Kimberly and her mother. Kimberly's childhood ends as soon as they come to Brooklyn. She's the English representative for her mother. She also is outraged by the obvious injustices brought upon them by her aunt and much more eager to share her feelings than her mother. Kimberly's mother is a fabulous character. A refined musician in Hong Kong, she is just as unhappy as Kimberly with the struggles in her new life, but she never shows it. She seems to accept the difficulties of this life and cruelties of her own sister knowing that Kimberly's future will be bright. Throughout the book, you can also see how wise and funny she is through her advice and teasing of Kimberly (especially about boys). Jean Kwok said this book was written especially to show how wonderful her own mother is.

Kimberly can't seem to fit in either of her worlds; she is constantly pulled between each. She loves school and wants to build a successful life for her and her mother. But she clearly doesn't fit in with peers who have lived a carefree life; she had to grow up very quickly. She hates the sweatshop culture of Chinatown and her aunt's cruelty. But her love for one boy - kind, smart, handsome Matt - pulls her back toward the factory world. Which will she choose - love or success? And what are the consequences of that choice?

Rating: 4 / 5

14 comments:

  1. Great review, Alison!
    I've read this book a while ago and it made a huge impression on me. It truly is a thought-provoking and very emotional read :) Glad you liked it!

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  2. Great review. I really loved the relationship between Kimberly and her mother too. And I thought the book had a great ending.

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  3. Nice review! I think I'm going to have to check this out. Since I am Chinese too, this sounds really interesting :) (Except I was born in Canada so I don't really have that whole immigration experience, but still!)

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  4. I've seen this book on the shelves at the local library every once in a while. I'll have to pick it up sometime! Great review.

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  5. great review. Sounds like a poignant read.

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  6. Great review! I love it the feel of this book already just be your review.

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  7. Okay, now you've got me really curious about the things she has to choose between and what her decision might be. Her aunt sounds like one of those characters you want to reach in and shake, but I love that her relationship with her mom is so strong. Awesome review Alison!

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  8. I completely agree with you, Alison. I really enjoyed the book and I loved her relationship with her mom. I was so glad to get away from the stereotypical strict/psycho mother that usually appear in books featuring Asian Americans. I couldn't believe the ending! It totally took me off guard and made me teary eyed.

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  9. Loving the sound of the mother-daughter relationship! A good relationship between a mother and daughter as rarely present in the books that I read, now that I think about it.

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  10. I've heard of this one, and while it doesn't sound like something I might read, it does sound really good and I am glad to see you enjoyed it. I might pick up in the future though. Great review :)

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  11. I feel bad I haven't read this yet, it was a Christmas Book Blog gift and I still haven't got to it!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd out
    www.bookdout.wordpress.com

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  12. I never thought I'd have a desire to read this one. Something about it just didn't stand out to me, but now that I've read your description of the mother/daughter relationship and how well it was developed, I'm intrigued because that is often lacking.

    Thanks Alison.

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  13. So glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did! I can't believe it's taken me so long to read it. Kim was such a fabulous character and we shared many of the same thoughts.

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  14. I think this sounds really interesting. Definitely the type of book I normally enjoy reading.

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