Girl in Translation by Jean KwokGirl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Published by Riverhead on April 29th 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.

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.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.

Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant – a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

5 Stars

An insightful debut about immigration, hardship, and striving for education and success against all odds, enveloped by a tentative love story.

Threre’s a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. Those who are strong-willed may fight thestorm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown. I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions.

Girl in Translation follows the storyline of Kimberly Chang, a Chinese girl who migrates to the United States with her mother. The narration beautifully illustrates the struggles of being pushed into a foreign world, where people look different, have other traditions, other norms, and speak an entirely different language. Based on her own childhood experiences as a migrant from Hong Kong, Jean Kwok tells the story of young and exceptionally intelligent Kimberly Chang who finds herself doing the splits between a life in Chinatown, wasting away as a sweatshop worker and living in a run-down apartment, and striving for a successful career at a fancy private school. Kimberly translates herself back and forth between a world where she can barely afford clothes and a world where, in spite of her intelligence, she’s supposed to look the part as she reaches for higher education.

It is a tale of survival and beating the odds, but ultimately, it is also a fragile love story in an unforgiving environment.

The narration is raw, honest, and authentic, with the Chinese culture being cleverly woven into the storyline. It provides insight into a world hidden behind the facade of Chinatown, a place where we might order a Sezuan chicken to go and never imagine what may lie beneath the surface.

Girl in Translation provides a powerful message of hope, narrated by a strong and inquisitive character whose mind and soul sometimes seems divided in two.