Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Extremely readable; a moving and involving story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Fig Tree
ISBN: 978-1905490622

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When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate to the USA from Hong Kong they believe that, true to the American Dream, their lives are about to get better. However, although Kimberly's aunt paid their air fares and arranged their green cards she is intent on getting her money back. She arranges their accommodation in a run-down part of Brooklyn in a building where they are the only tenants. Their apartment has broken windows, no heating and is rife with cockroaches and rats. The aunt arranges work for Kim's mum in her husband's Chinatown factory, paying her a pittance for piece work and then taking most of her salary away for repayments on their flights and their accommodation. Huddled around their oven for warmth, wearing layers of clothing made from material they found in the trash, their lives seem incredibly bleak. But Kimberly has brains, and determination, and she is adamant that she will find a way to take care of her mother.

This is a wonderful coming of age story that whilst showing the hardships of growing up as a teenage girl generally also gives an honest, disturbing glimpse into the hardships of immigrant life. Kim's voice, narrating the story, is very honest, very raw, and there's something enticingly readable about it. Although I occasionally found myself stumbling over some of the dialogue it was merely a reflection of Kim's own struggles in understanding English, and as her communication skills grow these misinterpretations of words happen less and less.

Throughout the story Kim is devoted to her mother. Some readers might find it a little unrealistic at times, the way that she fiercely protects her, and how her whole life comes to revolve around making her mother's life better. Kim almost seems robotic, blindly working on and on, studying to get good grades, then after school joining her mother in the factory in order to help her complete her orders and make barely enough for them to survive on. Yet this unquestioning respect and sense of duty is important in Chinese families, and Kim is merely performing her duty as a good daughter. Because of the way Kim's aunt is treating her and her mother, you feel very sorry for them, and hopeful that Kim will somehow find a way for them to leave the awful apartment and escape to a better life.

I did wonder if a young girl could really do as well at school as she does, considering her long days, the exhausting work at the factory followed by homework late into the night. It seems that the adversity she faces just makes her stronger. And the moments when she does rebel, just slightly, against her mother's strict sense of decorum you just feel relief that Kim has at least a couple of chances at a normal girl's life. Although much of the story is about how difficult things are for Kim, there are also lighter moments. I liked how Kim always measures an item's value in how many 'skirts' it will cost.

Running through the book there is a love story too, as a relationship slowly blossoms between Kim and Matt, another worker in the factory. In relation to this, the book starts with a prologue set in the future, and because of that I thought I knew how things might have turned out for Kim and spent a lot of the book trying to figure out what was going to happen and worrying about Kim because of that. However, there is something of a twist at the end that I hadn't predicted at all...

I found this a very easy, quick read. Kim's character really came to life in my mind and I worried over the hardships she faced, finding it hard to put the book down at bedtime as I wanted to read on and see what would happen next. If you like coming of age stories, or you're interested in Chinese American immigration and culture, or even if you just like a good story then I would certainly recommend this.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For a more unusual coming of age tale you could try Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen: A Manifesto in 41 Tales by Marilyn Chin or if you're a fan of crime fiction with a bit of New York's Chinatown thrown in then this might be of interest.

Buy Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok at

Buy Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok at


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