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Girl in Translation

by Jean Kwok

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,9051616,493 (3.93)107
Caught between the pressure to succeed in America, her duty to their family, and her own personal desires, Kimberly Chang, an immigrant girl from Hong Kong, learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
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» See also 107 mentions

English (157)  Dutch (3)  Finnish (1)  All languages (161)
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
This book was good at conveying an immigrant experience. However, the last chapter seemed like it was written by a different author and was very amateurish and awkward. Since I liked most of the book I gave it four stars. ( )
  AnnieMK | May 12, 2021 |
Kimberly Chang and her mother arrive in New York from Hong when Kimberly is just five years old at the beginning of Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation. In debt to her older sister for helping them come to the US, Kimberly’s mom struggles at a dress factory, and they live in a slum apartment. Kimberly begins to excel at school--enough to go to the best private school, but she still goes to the factory in the afternoons to help her mom and she grapples with the contrast in her life. Girl in Translation is an interesting immigrant coming-of-age story that documents the difficulties many Asian Americans face. Some plot points are a bit bumpy, and Kwok chose to wrap the entire novel up with a clumsy epilogue, but it’s still a worthwhile read for anyone looking for AAPI stories. ( )
  Hccpsk | Mar 29, 2021 |
Thoughtful look at the challenges of immigrant life. Kimberly is a strong, brilliant girl, but the other characters are two-dimensional and the situations she faces are much more complex than they are presented. Also, the narrator's use of accent is a bit distracting. ( )
  elifra | Dec 3, 2020 |

Loved the book up until the ending. ( )
  baruthcook | Aug 26, 2020 |
When I started reading Girl in Translation, I mistook it for a memoir, and not in a good way. The pacing is slightly off, in a way that feels realistic (time is so subjective!) but also unpolished in fiction.

Young Kimberly is academically gifted and hardworking, a great real-life aspiration, which lacks any narrative tension because I never worried about her. I need to see a character struggle and experience setbacks to really worry about their outcome. As I read, I wasn’t entirely sure when Kimberly got everything done — private school classes, homework, working in the campus library, meeting with her English tutor, working at night in the sweatshop, and still finding time to neck with boys — but I didn’t see her experiencing difficulties and learning from them.

Also, I thought the author was protecting the privacy of real people by choosing not to give too many details about the characters, but since it’s a not actually a memoir, they were just flat characters. For example, the character of Annabelle was very significant to the protagonist, and their friendship lasted for years, but Annabelle remains an underdeveloped character without real personality traits or motivations. The teachers were one-note, which is definitely how teenagers experience their teachers, but again, doesn’t really lead to nuance or tension.

Kimberley’s secret sweatshop life should have been dramatic and moving, with workers earning pennies per garment while paying off their debts to the factory owner, but again, I never worried about how Kimberley and her mother would pay for school fees or uniforms. The evil factory owner pointing out the cycle of factory life, with kids and the elderly doing similar simple tasks, was a bit heavy-handed.

Still, I enjoyed the Cantonese phrases and idioms, and especially enjoyed how they were worked into natural conversation.

Finally, I thought the ending was awkward and unbelievable. Without giving the ending away, it doesn’t match anything I’d learned about Kimberley, her mother or Matt’s character. Plus, that is a massive secret to keep when living in a tight-knit Chinatown community. ( )
  TheFictionAddiction | Aug 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
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.
Kwok adeptly captures the hardships of the immigrant experience and the strength of the human spirit to survive and even excel despite the odds.
added by khuggard | editLibrary Journal

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kwok, Jeanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dekker, Jeannetsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wey, GrayceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Belongs to Publisher Series

Blackbirds (2013)
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For Erwin, Stefan and Milan, and to the memory of my brother Kwan S. Kwok
First words
I was born with a talent. Not for dance, nor comedy, nor anything so delightful. I've always had a knack for school. Everything that was taught there, I could learn: quickly and without too much effort. It was as if school were a vast machine and I a cog perfectly formed to fit in it. This is not to say that my education was always easy for me. When Ma and I moved to the U.S., I spoke only a few words of English and for a very long time, I struggled.
What Annette didn't understand was that silence could be a great protector. I couldn't afford to cry when there was no escape. Talking about my problems would only illuminate the lines of my unhappiness in the cold light of day, showing me, as well as her, the things I had been able to bear only because they had been half hidden in the shadows. I couldn't expose myself like that, not even for her.
Brains are beautiful.
In those days, I wanted to believe our love was something tangible and permanent, like a good luck charm I could always wear around my neck. Now I know it was more like the wisp of smoke trailing off a stick of incense: most of what I could hold onto was the memory of the burning, the aftermath if its scent.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Caught between the pressure to succeed in America, her duty to their family, and her own personal desires, Kimberly Chang, an immigrant girl from Hong Kong, learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

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Book description
Ah-Kim Chang and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn, where they work for Kim's Aunt Paula in a Chinatown clothing factory earning barely enough to keep them alive; however, Kim's perseverance and hard work earns her a place at an elite private school where she is befriended by Annette, who helps her adjust to American culture.
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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