Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Author: Jean Kwok
Genre: Contemporary fiction, multicultural fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover, 2010
Source: Audiobook from library
Read for: Alex Awards Challenge
Kimberly and her mother immigrate to New York City from Hong Kong with high hopes of a much better life. They find themselves rather disappointed when they find themselves in a freezing, roach-infested apartment, in serious debt to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who helped to bring them to America. Kimberly's mother doesn't speak English, and Kimberly is none too certain what many of her fast-talking classmates are saying herself. However, despite the difficulty of adjusting to life in America and Aunt Paula's oppression, Kimberly uses her talents to overcome her circumstances.
This book grabbed me from the very first sentence, and I was swept up for the entire time. I listened on audio, and it was a great option for this book. The narrator was dynamic and emotional, and I felt connected to Kimberly and her friends and family.
The story is told in the first person, and Kimberly's voice is distinct and powerful. Her story begins when she is in elementary school and follows her through the beginnings of her adult career. Kimberly goes through the typical ins and outs of growing up coupled with her differentness from her classmates and her misunderstandings of American culture. She shoulders the heavy burden of not only living in severe poverty and illegally working with her mother in a factory after school to help earn money, but also keeping the rest of the world from finding out about the way she lives.
The secondary characters are just as vibrant as Kimberly. Her best friend Annette, who is passionate and boisterous, supports Kimberly throughout their teenage years, despite being shut out of the complicated secrets of Kimberly's life. Then there is Curt, the popular it-boy at Kimberly's high school who fixates on her despite her "differentness." And of course, there is Matt -- another boy who works at the factory, and who has the greatest influence on Kimberly's life of all.
Like Kimberly, Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong when she was a young girl, which I think is one of the reasons why this book has so much depth and power -- it is frequently coming from personal experience.
I think Girl in Translation would be a fantastic choice for a book club due to the complex decisions that Kimberly has to make throughout the book. This book doesn't mute anything -- Kimberly's struggles are poignant and painful, with no easy solutions. While some of her decisions left me gaping in disbelief, at the same time when I considered how I would face them, I had no answer.
For a powerful, moving coming-of-age story, Girl in Translation should leave readers satisfied.
Warnings: Some drug use, a scene of sensuality