Book Review: Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation is a vivid, inspiring, and at times, heart-wrenching novel about a young Chinese immigrant girl and her mother making their way in America. Kimberly and her mother have no option but to work in an abominable sweatshop for a few dollars a day, and the living conditions in their New York apartment are harsh–no heat, no glass in the windows, roaches and rodents everywhere, and no money to purchase necessary items. Nevertheless, Kimberly is intellectually gifted, and she knows that her brains are her only hope of gaining a better life for her and her mother.

With great attention to the details of Kimberly’s hardscrabble life, Jean Kwok makes it impossible for the reader not to empathize with Kimberly. In particular, I thought that Kwok’s technique of writing out phrases the way they sounded to Kimberly as she was still learning English–for example, “Go downda hall, two fights up, classroom’s firsdur left“–was very effective in helping me understand how confused and overwhelmed Kimberly must have felt.

Girl in Translation is excellent. I really enjoyed it and recommend it; however, I have to say that I liked the first 7/8 of the book better than the last bit, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. It’s still a worthwhile book.

My rating: 4/5

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