Yes, I read (or, rather, listened to) this solely based on the cover. Lucky for me, I wasn’t disappointed.
Kimberly Chang has left Hong Kong with her mother and moved to Brooklyn, New York to be near her mother’s sister’s family. Her father has died and her mother fell very ill from tuberculosis, so her Aunt Paula brought them both to New York and expects her mother (and Kimberly) to work in her Chinese sweatshop. Kimberly is young, only 11, and doesn’t know a lot of English when she comes to America and immediately has trouble fitting in at school. She is the only Chinese girl there and is instantly picked on for her accent, her clothes, and her respectful manner with her teacher. Lucky for Kimberly, she is a clever girl and learns to navigate the waters pretty quickly. A promising student, she excels at math and science, languages she can understand no matter where she is. Also lucky for her, people take notice of her brilliance and she is eventually admitted to a prestigious private high school. Just like elementary school, she is singled out for her poor clothing and accent, but, just like high school, she learns to deal with it and outshine her classmates.
Like with most girls of this age, there is a boy. Another immigrant from Hong Kong, Matt couldn’t be more like, or more different, from Kimberly, and she instantly takes a shine to him. Their affection for each other is sweet, and surprisingly mature, and one of my favorite parts of the book. I also really enjoyed Kimberly’s interactions with her mother, who refuses to learn English and relies on Kimberly pretty heavily to help her at the factory and be the adult in their tiny family. Kimberly has a hard life and her determination to rise above it is commendable. I listened to this at the same time we were discussing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn over at Classic Reads Book Club and the similarities were great. ATGB is one of my favorite books ever, so it’s no wonder I loved this one so much. The only problem I had with the book is that at times Kimberly felt a touch too perfect, too able to fix her problems with ease. Sure, she wasn’t always good, she had her rebellions, but she never seemed to have any real weaknesses…although I suppose her vast ambition could be seen as a weakness. The best part was the ending for me; I was so impressed that Kwok didn’t do what I (or probably many readers) wanted, but what the story dictated. That takes guts, in my book.
Grayce Wey was the absolute best reader for this book. Her slight accent was perfect. Her ability to thicken it for Kimberly’s mother (she used a thick accent in English for words that were really spoken in Chinese) was inspired and she sounded just young enough to be believable as Kimberly grew from 11 to 18 and on into adulthood. I hope she will do more audiobooks in the future. Highly recommended.
Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Read by Grayce Wey
Published by: Penguin Audio
On Sale: April 29, 2010
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