Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 BOTY: Girl in Translation

At the beginning of Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Kimberly Chang and her mother move to the United States from Hong Kong with the assistance of her mother's sister. Because of this help, as well as the money she spent to cure Kimberly's mother of tuberculosis, they are heavily indebted to Aunt Paula.

Even though they are family members, they are treated deplorably. Aunt Paula sets them up with housing in a worn down area of Brooklyn - in a neighborhood of condemned buildings. She repeatedly vocalizes what a favor she is doing for them. Meanwhile, their apartment is small, cold and in need of serious repair. There are cockroaches everywhere and broken windows that let in the cold air.There is no heat. Kimberly and her mother often spend the cold winter evenings huddled together covered by all of the clothes they own in a futile attempt to keep warm.

Mrs. Chang is employed by Aunt Paula at the clothing factory she and Uncle Bob own. She is paid pennies by the piece. Kimberly works alongside her mother in the illegal sweatshop every evening after school and begins to value items based upon the number of completed dresses they would cost.

But Kimberly is special. She is a bright student with an aptitude for math. Though she initially has a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, she is able to struggle through her first year of American school. She works hard to be the best student she can be, trying to make something of the sacrifices that her mother has taken, all the while hiding her poverty from those around her. Her only hesitation, her one weakness - is for Matt - another factory worker's son. He catches her eye when they are just children, but her love for him grows over the years.

Girl in Translation far exceeded my expectations. I chose this book rather randomly off of my "to read" list and I'm very glad I did. The story was written beautifully with an amazing amount of detail that made me frequently feel as if I were reading a memoir. 

Kimberly is a fantastic character, built as a very determined young lady. She has an amazing amount of will to accomplish those things she sets out to do and she sets very high expectations for herself. This young girl works harder than most adults in today's society, doing everything she can to help her small family survive and excel. 

I do wish that the ending hadn't seemed so abrupt. The end of the book seemed somewhat rushed, still written well but not in the flowing and enthralling way that it had been for the prior 200 pages. I would've rated this book as a perfect 5, but this ending made it lose a little of its luster. Still very much worth reading, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok receives 4 out of 5 stars.


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