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Girl in Translation

By Jean Kwok

This is a coming of age novel about Kimberly Chang, who emigrates with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn at age 11. The author, Jean Kwok, skillfully addresses clashing cultures and values, and the roots and impact of the poverty faced by many immigrants. Although Kimberly encounters grinding poverty, child labor, and the otherness of being immersed in a foreign culture, she is entirely relatable to readers whose experiences do not encompass such hardships. She is simply a teenage girl tackling the challenges of friendships, figuring out love, and making the best of her opportunities. Kimberly’s voice is composed and witty; she is funny without making fun of her culture, unlike the self-deprecating tone in many novels about the immigrant experience. Ms. Kwok’s rendering of the dialogue as Kimberly heard it when she was first trying to manage in English is especially delightful–anyone who has tried to communicate in a foreign language will relate. The ending is well done. I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to write spoilers, but Ms. Kwok wraps up the novel in a surprising, yet satisfying way.

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