Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate to the USA from Hong Kong they believe that, true to the American Dream, their lives are about to get better. However, although Kimberly’s aunt paid their air fares and arranged their green cards she is intent on getting her money back. She arranges their accommodation in a run-down part of Brooklyn in a building where they are the only tenants. Their apartment has broken windows, no heating and is rife with cockroaches and rats. The aunt arranges work for Kim’s mum in her husband’s Chinatown factory, paying her a pittance for piece work and then taking most of her salary away for repayments on their flights and their accommodation. Huddled around their oven for warmth, wearing layers of clothing made from material they found in the trash, their lives seem incredibly bleak. But Kimberly has brains, and determination, and she is adamant that she will find a way to take care of her mother.

This is a wonderful coming of age story that whilst showing the hardships of growing up as a teenage girl generally also gives an honest, disturbing glimpse into the hardships of immigrant life. Kim’s voice, narrating the story, is very honest, very raw, and there’s something enticingly readable about it. Although I occasionally found myself stumbling over some of the dialogue it was merely a reflection of Kim’s own struggles in understanding English, and as her communication skills grow these misinterpretations of words happen less and less.

Read the rest of my review for The Bookbag.


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