Book Review: Girl in Translation

Isn’t that a great cover?  I just love that cover.  The soft teal greenish blue of the background is one of my favorite colors and, honestly, I have always wanted to be able to get my hair to do that.  

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
Jean Kwok
Read by
Grayce Wey
Published by: Penguin Audio
Format: Audiobook
On Sale: April 29, 2010
ISBN: 978-0142427996 

I downloaded from NC Digital Library, which means I got it for free! :Þ

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Other reviews:

Devourer of Books | Booking Mama | Starting Fresh | Good Books and Good Wine | Thoughts of Joy | Reading Extravaganza | The Book Nest | and more…


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11 thoughts on “Book Review: Girl in Translation

  1. I read this while we were discussing A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN too! Weren't the connections just fantastic? I'm so glad to know that this had a good narrator, that is definitely crucial for a book like this.

  2. I love the cover of this book too. I have seen the cover all over the place but didn't really know much about the story. Now that I do know a little more, I'm definitely interested in picking the book up and reading it. Thanks for the great review.

  3. It's funny that you just reviewed this. While the girls were napping on our way home from Pittsburgh yesterday Danny found an audiobooks station on Sirius. This was the book in progress. I have no idea really how that would work from a station standpoint, but now I've had two references to this audiobook in as many days. I'm taking that as a sign. 🙂

  4. I had the good luck to listen to the audio version too and enjoyed every second of it! It's been a while since I've read a good immigrant and coming-of-age story, so I was absolutely thrilled to discover this book and so very sad when it came to an end.

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