Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review of Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

I was so excited when I was offered a review copy of Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Translation. The book sounded so interesting (and the cover is gorgeous)! I am glad to say that I loved the book even more than I'd hoped.

Girl in TranslationThe blurb:
What is it like to be surrounded every day by a language and culture you only half understand? How would it change your life?

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, they speak no English and own nothing but debt. Kimberly's talent for school does not pay the bills, and she quickly begins a double life, carefully hidden from the outside world: an exceptional student by day, she is a Chinatown sweatshop worker by evening and weekend. Disguising the most difficult truths of her life -- her staggering poverty, the weight of her family's expectations, her love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition -- Kimberly learns to translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the two worlds she straddles.

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, Girl in Translation is an inspiring debut about a young immigrant in America, a smart girl balancing schoolwork and factory labor, custom and desire, a girl who is forced at young age to take responsibility for her family's future, with decisions that she may later regret. Through Kimberly, we feel the shock of a new world and the everyday struggles and sacrifices of recent immigrants -- and through her, we learn to understand how these experiences can ultimately shape a life and the choices one make.

Like Kimberly Chang, author Jean Kwok emigrated to Hong Kong as a young girl, and she brings to the page the story of countless others who have been caught among the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires. Written in an unforgettable voice that dramatizes the tensions of a girl growing up between two worlds, Girl in Translation is a story of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

When Kimberly Chang and her widowed mother move to New York from Hong Kong, they are heavily in debt and dependent on her aunt for housing and employment. The adjustment is tough - she'd previously at the top of her class in Hong Kong and well loved but now finds herself looked at with suspicion by her new teacher Mr. Bogart. Kimberly doesn't let Mr. Bogart's disdain keep her down. Her days brighten when she makes friends of her own: Matt, another Chinese kid working at the garments factory, and Annette, a friendly girl in her class in school who shares her sense of humor.

The details of Kimberly's life would be depressing but for Kimberly's attitude and spirit. Kimberly and her mother have each other and when they're together, the smallest things cheer them up and give them hope. Living in a condemned and rodent infested apartment without heat, the two Changs somehow make it through. As Kimberly slowly finds ways to improve their situation, you'll find yourself touched by this story of sacrifice, love, loyalty, and perseverance.

I loved Girl in Translation - Kimberly's story and her voice stayed with me long after I finished the book. I've been fortunate to find a lot of good books in the last year, but this one stands out.

ISBN-10: 1594487561 - Hardcover$25.95
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 29, 2010), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author, courtesy of the publisher:
Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn as a child. She received her bachelor's degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia. After working as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Kwok now writes full-time.

Learn more about on Jean Kwok's website at Visit Jean's blog - I recommend her post on "How to Go From Complete Unknown to Published Author." Watch Jean's video at

Thank you so much to Jean, Lydia, Sarah and Penguin Books for this review opportunity!

1 comment:

  1. I've got this one for review, and it looks good, but your review is the first one I've read. I'm thrilled to hear you liked it!