1. Book title: Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok
2. Words that describe the book: Fiction, Immigrants
3. Settings or characters:
* Kimberly Chang, 11 year old who emigrates to the U.S. (from Hong Kong) with her mother. They live in a run-down Brooklyn apartment that has no heat but plenty of insects.
* Aunt Paula, older sister of Kimberly’s mother. She’s bitter and jealous and doesn’t want her sister and niece to ever forget how much they owe her. She and her husband run the factory where Kimberly and her mother work.
* Matt, the boy at the factory who befriends Kimberly. At first he seemed aloof and a little curious about Kimberly but later he became a good friend. He had a tough life working a few jobs to provide for a sick mother and a brother with special needs.
4. Things I liked/disliked about the book:
* I liked that the novel reads like a memoir but is fiction that draws on the author’s own life experiences.
* I love the character of Kimberly. Jean Kwok gives us a young girl full of life and optimism even under the bleakest of circumstances.
* I liked the device Kwok used that showed the difficulty someone who has learned English in her home country has in understanding spoken English in the US (or other country where English is the primary language). She spelled some words incorrectly but as they were heard by Kimberly – which makes for a lot of misunderstanding. It was very effective.
* Kwok describes the factory scenes in detail. That had me thinking she probably experienced this to a certain extent.
5. Stars or less: 4.5/5. Recommended!
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.