Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation



290 pages


When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life–like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant–a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation [goodreads].


Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia.
Her debut novel Girl in Translation (Riverhead, 2010) became a New York Times bestseller. It has been published in 15 countries and chosen as the winner of an American Library Association Alex Award, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, an Orange New Writers title, an Indie Next Pick, a Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award nominee and the winner of Best Cultural Book in Book Bloggers Appreciation Week 2010. It was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. The novel was a Blue Ribbon Pick for numerous book clubs, including Book of the Month, Doubleday and Literary Guild. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two sons. [amazon]

There’s a video interview with the author here.


“At age 5, Kwok moved with her family from Hong Kong to a New York City slum. . . . She has spun some of her experiences into this involving debut. . . . Kwok drops you right inside Kimberly’s head, adding Chinese idioms to crisp dialogue. And the book’s lesson-that every choice comes at the expense of something else- hits home in any language.”
People (3 1/2 stars)

“Writing in first-person from Kim’s point of view, Kwok cleverly employs phonetic spellings to illustrate her protagonist’s growing understanding of English and wide-eyed view of American teen culture. The author draws upon her own experience as a child laborer in New York, which adds a poignant layer to Girl in Translation.”
USA Today

“Though the plot may sound mundane – a Chinese girl and her mother immigrate to this country and succeed despite formidable odds – this coming-of-age tale is anything but. Whether Ah-Kim (or Kimberly, as she’s called) is doing piecework on the factory floor with her mother, or suffering through a cold New York winter in a condemned, roach-infested apartment, or getting that acceptance letter from Yale, her story seems fresh and new.”
Entertainment Weekly


I enjoyed this book very much, and felt pulled all along, by the  real life size of the characters, of their amazing situation, and of their dialogues, as they try to fit in their new world. I don’t like coming-of-age novels, and this is not any of those. It is beautifully written, a tearjerker as well!  Looking forward to reading more books by the same author.



2 thoughts on “Girl in Translation

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Emma! I loved the immigrant story as told by Jean Kwok (truly, an eye-opener for the reader to understand that, yes, sweatshops still exist!). The emotions, struggles, and reactions of Kim and Mrs. Chang were very real (again, and appalling to know that this is based on Kwok’s own experience!).

    I struggled with the last 20 pages or so, which wrapped up a dozen years too neatly for my taste. I will, however, continue to recommend GIRL IN TRANSLATION for all its merits — and I’ll look forward to reading more from Jean Kwok


  2. Pingback: The 10 titles for our June Book Club « Words And Peace

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.