Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

Most everyone is familiar with the saying "Don't judge a book by it's cover" but in the case of Girl In Translation and it's gorgeous cover art you should most definitely judge this book by it's cover. It's beautiful inside and out. I must admit I was drawn to this book by it's cover and that it was a coming-of- age story of a young girl that immigrates with her mother to the US from China. I love to read books about other cultures as my own family is from different cultural backgrounds. My grandparents immigrated from Poland and Russia and my mother immigrated to the US from Germany when she married my father.  To top it off, when I read that Jean Kwok's book Girl In Translation was "reminiscent of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", which is my all time favorite book, I knew that it was a must read for me. It does have many similarities which is one of the many reasons that I enjoyed this book so much.

Kimberly and her mother leave Hong Kong after her father dies  to live in Brooklyn, New York. Her aunt, her mother's sister, sponsors them allowing them only to stay a few days in her clean and comfortable home. The aunt moves them into an uninhabitable place of squalor and puts them to work in her Chinese clothing sweatshop. Kimberly is 11 years old, an intelligent girl and learns English and succeeds academically in school but socially she is quite challenged. She is forced to lead a double life of sorts as a child in school and a child working in a sweatshop after school, evenings and weekends.

As a reader, we are told the story through Kimberly's eyes and voice as she grows older and through her experiences in the sweat shop, at school and beyond. She learns to translate the language between both English and Chinese and the two worlds they come from. I found myself connected to Kimberly as she expresses her impressions, experiences and those of her mother as she learns to pronounce words in English.  Both mother and daughter have such a strong bond, they are connected by their strength, love and determination to make the best of their situation. There is no giving up no matter what and they endure great hardships over the years.

I enjoyed seeing Kimberly grow as a young child into a teen and young woman fiercely protective of her mother who still struggled to learn the English language and worked so hard without complaints in the sweat shop. Kimberly tries to fit into the American way of life which has it's challenges as an immigrant and you get an understanding of how hard that can be. She develops a few friendships and a love for a factory boy that is not following the same path as she is.  The ending was perfectly fitting to the story and one that may be a surprise to some readers.

This is a book that will make you think and it did that for me, even after I finished the book. Which to me, is a sign of a great book. Reading Girl in Translation has made me aware on a deeper level, what it must be like to be an immigrant and come to a new country feeling like an outsider. Transitioning into a new way of life, learning a new language, fitting in, being accepted etc. I appreciated the novel even more when I read the background of Jean Kwok, on her website. Ms. Kwok shares that Girl in Translation is a work of fiction but many of the experiences were similar to her own life. I believe that this reality infused with fiction gives Girl in Translation strength and life. Ms. Kwok is a gifted writer and this is a fabulous debut novel. I look forward to more of her writing in the future and was thrilled to read on her website that she is already in the process of writing her next book. Girl in Translation is truly a beautiful novel and one that everyone should read, especially those who are interested in culturally based books and coming-of-age novels.

Disclosure: Thanks to the publisher, Penguin, for sending me an advanced reading copy for review. I am an amazon associate and Indiebound associate.


  1. Terrific review. I've wanted to read this for awhile.

  2. Nice review. I love coming of age stories set in other countries. Often, it's a totally different world to us as a reader.

    The cover is gorgeous too which doesn't hurt at all :)

  3. This was such a good book. I gained such insight into what it must be like to be an immigrant. The author did it subtly and yet I would stop after reading a passage and think "wow, I don't think I could ever do that!" Just a wonderful novel.
    The ARC was just a beautiful as the finished copy. The nicest ARC I've received!
    Nice review, Bonnie.

  4. I just love a book that keeps you thinking about it long after you've turned the last page. There's something special about that. :)

  5. I love to read immigrant stories too. I'm glad to see this book lives up to its gorgeous cover.

  6. This one sounds very intriguing and I too am drawn to their stories!! Great review!

  7. Great review, Bonnie! I've been reading nice things about this book.

  8. Thanks so much for this great review, Bonnie! I've posted a link to this on my Facebook Fan page:


    Jean Kwok

  9. Your review of this book is fantastic and leaves me wanting to read it. Its always interesting learning about other cultures and what people go through. Great job!

  10. I'm often drawn to a book by its cover too. Oops, maybe I shouldn't have admited that!


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