Review of Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of Girl In Translation by Jean KwokGirl In Translation by Jean Kwok
Also by this author: Mambo in Chinatown
Published by Penguin on 2010-04-29
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

Introducing a fresh, exciting new voice, an inspiring debut about a Chinese immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures. 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 American immigrant novel—a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Prior to BEA I had this goal of decimating my review pile. The vast majority of this pile was comprised of YA books which I flew through. The books which were not YA, however, I was hesitant to read. Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok was one of those books I was quite nervous about. I was so worried it would be slowly paced. Luckily, friends, I was pleasantly surprised. I actually gobbled Girl In Translation up.

Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok is about the immigrant experience. It focuses on a girl named Ah Kim who immigrates from Hong Kong to America with her mother at the age of 9? 11? I forget. She starts the book in elementary school, though. Kim and her mother expect a different America than what they get. She has this aunt who sponsors their trip over. You would think this bodes well. Unfortunately, the aunt owns this sweatshop, which of course Kim’s mother is trapped in working there. As Kim’s mother does not speak English, I don’t think she had any other options unfortunately. It’s tragic, when Lady Liberty isn’t quite as embracing as you would have expected.  I should probably say I didn’t read this book expecting Kim (she Americanizes her name) to represent the experience of all immigrants, or even the experience of all Asian immigrants.

Kim is very impoverished, which is fairly different from characters in most of the books I read. I sort of like it when I have more money than the characters I read about, it makes it easier for me to relate to them on an economic level I can understand decisions they may face. The great thing about Kim is she never lets her poverty define her. She won’t let her mean old hag aunt put her in her place. I loved that she did face all these problems, yet remained resilient and ultimately triumphed. It’s great reading an uplifting book instead of something that is depress-o-rama.

What, perhaps, stood out to me the most about Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok was the value placed on education in this novel. I know we often get this image/story/stereotype of the studious Asian. Now, obviously not every Asian is a genius, nor is every single Asian mathematically inclined. However, I wonder how this stereotype came into play. I do know certain cultures highly value learning and education, such as the Jewish culture. It’s proven that education does improve one’s chances at monetary success in life, but not guaranteed. However, I do digress. To go back to this, I enjoyed seeing how much Kim liked school and learning, despite how often she struggled with fitting in.

The most compelling thing about Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, aside from matching my value set, was the narration of Kim. The book is first person. I felt it really helped me to relate and genuinely care. I formed a connection with Kim. There were definitely parts where something uncool would happen and I would totally mist over. Typical sap. Anyways if you have a penchant for coming of age books, I totally recommend you check this one out.

Other Reviews of Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok:

Anna’s Book Blog

Purchase Girl in Translation here.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I think I should read this… I've read a lot of good things about it! As for the educational stereotype… being only half-asian and growing up in the states, it was still a HUGE deal.. and from everyone I've known the education thing is not a stereotype, lol. It's crazy!

  2. I like first person books too, it´s easiest to relate…

    The story seems interesting, not fun, but really nice to read. I´m adding it to the enormous pile lol

  3. rhapsodyinbooks says

    Actually I have a similar problem. After reading a bunch of YA books, other books seem to take so long to get the same ideas and emotions across! I am always so impressed how they do that in so few pages. I think many authors of books for adults would do well to study the format! :–)

  4. Girl on a Mission says

    Ha! My adult shelf hasn't been read in over a year. I'm horrible but it's just so much easier to pick up a YA lol. Great review! I think I'll check this one out.

  5. Elisabeth says

    So glad to hear this! I have a copy sitting on my TBR pile as well & so now I can look forward to it more readily! Thanks!

  6. I saw this book in a pile of ARCs at the bookstore I write reviews for and I didn't grab it. Darn! I should've. This sounds great.

  7. kay - Infinite Shelf says

    Great review! I love coming of age stories, even more when they give me a different point of view on another culture. I'll have to read this one!


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