Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From Hong Kong to Brooklyn

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
This debut has been getting a lot of great reviews. It didn't get on my radar until the author stopped at the bookstore I work at, to sign stock. She was very nice and took the time to tell me what the story was about. It sounded like something I would like, so I decided to give it a go.

Set in 1980's. 11 yr old Ah Kim and her mother immigrant from China to the United States. Ah Kim's westernized name is Kimberly. Mother and daughter must live and work in awful conditions . Kimberly's aunt Paula paid for their trip, now they are in her debt. Kimberly's mother works at aunt Paula's sweatshop factory in Chinatown. She is paid by the piece. Thanks to aunt Paula, they live in very poor neighborhood in Brooklyn. There are no other tenants in their run down building unless you count the roaches, rats and mice.

When Kimberly understands English better she starts to excel at school again. Though, I found it hard to believe she got a perfect score on a standardized test in high school. She had mastered English by than and students do get perfect score but its very rare. I didn't need perfection to believe in Kimberly's intelligence, I was actually thrown off by it. Kimberly's mother doesn't speak English. So, its up to Kimberly to improve their situation. She must balance her two worlds, top student at a private school and child worker.

Girl in Translation very readable. I couldn't put it down. Kwok didn't do anything special, that's part of its appeal. There's something to be said for a well told story that is what it is without trying to be more. Kwok has created a well rounded and believable protagonist in Kimberly.

If you read my personal blog, you know I read a lot of young adult fiction. Girl in Translation is fiction but it could've easily been YA. Since it is a coming of age story. Either way its a very good.


tanita davis said...

Thank you for being skeptical of her perfect grades. TOO, too, too many immigrant stories with Asian characters go there... and since I used to teach students who struggled so hard just to grasp the language intricacies, I know it's a big old stereotype. This is not to say that for many cultures there's a serious scholarly work ethic going on for the young that we don't necessarily foster here, but it is to say that NOT everybody goes with it when they get to the U.S. - and I think we need to see more of that reality reflected in fiction for young adults.

Aths said...

This book has been catching my eye everywhere. I was amazed to read a bit about the author's background too, and how much she has drawn on her experiences while writing this novel. I hope I will read this sometime soon!

April (BooksandWine) said...

I agree with you one thousand percent.

I found this book to be compulsively readable as well and could not put it down!

mel u said...

I read a bit of Asian fiction and will for sure be on the lookout for this book-thanks for sharing it with us

Cassy said...

I love this kind of story and will order it. However, as a teacher of ELLs (English Language Learners) I too am skeptical when I read the "perfect score" line. Nevertheless, thanks for letting us know about this read. Can't wait!