Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl In Translation - Jean Kwok

Kimberley Chang is only eleven years old when she and her mother move to America from Hong Kong.
Aunt Paula- the sister of Kim’s mother- who has lived in America for thirteen years, finances their entire journey and relocation to New York. She provides them with a dingy squat of an apartment, and a ‘good’ address so that Kim can attend a better public school than the one in her impoverished neighbourhood. She even gives Kim’s mother a job in the factory she manages- a sweatshop in Chinatown that pays its worker’s two cents per garment. Living in the vermin-infested apartment, with only an oven to keep the place warm, and speaking barely any English, the mother-and-daughter duo struggle in their new and unfamiliar surroundings.
To make matters even more difficult, Kim, who always got top grades at her school in Hong Kong, struggles to fit in and achieve similar results in her American school. Language barriers, poverty, and the need for her to work at the factory after school (helping her mother on the production line) means that she has little time to catch up with her classmates.
But Kim soon realises that if she wants to lead a better life than the one she has now, she has to apply herself at school, get into the best college she can, and make something of herself. She starts reading any English she can get her hands on, and before long, finds herself excelling at everything school-related. Kim is determined to make something of her life, leave poverty behind, and experience triumph over adversity. Along the way, she deals with love, heartbreak, mockery and challenges, but she is persistent in turning her dreams into a reality, and breaking free of the mould she has been put in.

What I gained from reading this book:
This novel, while fictional, focuses on appalling sweatshop conditions and child labour, which is still existent in America (and other, smaller countries) despite the ethical issues surrounding the problem. In Girl In Translation, the children help their parents in the factory every day after school so that they can make enough money to survive. Even though they are overworked, underpaid, and in dirty and dangerous conditions, many of the employees have no choice but to continue working there (either because they are illegal immigrants or because they don’t have any other skills to get them by in America). Kim’s mother speaks very little English, and is indebted to her sister for getting them out of Hong Kong, and paying for her tuberculosis medication while she was ill. She has no other real option but to work in those appalling conditions, and Kim feels obligated to help when she’s not studying. Because of this, Kim vows to use her intellectual gifts to go to college, get a great job, and help get her mother out of such terrible poverty.
This novel is a wake-up call to all people, especially when the lives of Kim’s rich classmates are contrasted with her own (living well below the poverty line).
This novel is also about courage, love and attempting to achieve the (perceived) impossible.

This is a fantastic debut novel by Jean Kwok, and it features amazingly realistic characters. At times the story is so lifelike, that if you picked this book up and started reading it, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re reading the autobiography of an impoverished- yet gifted- Chinese girl growing up in America.

The life that Kim leads as a kid in America is tragic, to say the least. No child should have to endure the difficulties that she faces- studying at school all day and then working at a sweatshop with her mother until late at night.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who want to read an inspiring story about one girl’s persistence to improve her life, and save those she loves, from a lifetime of poverty.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Girl in Translation

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