50 Books By Authors of Color: Book 5
Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Kimberly Chang is only eleven when she and her mother pack up everything they own and move from Hong Kong to the United States of America. She is excited to be living in New York city, home of the Liberty Goddess (the statue of liberty) and so many skyscrapers but the reality she faces is far from what she expected. Initially, Kimberly and her mother were expecting to live with her mother’s older sister, Aunt Paula. Working for Paula helping take care of her son and teaching him music and Chinese.
This job ends before it even begins and Kimberly and her mother find themselves living in a run-down apartment without heat and infested with roaches, mice and rats. For work Kimberly and her mother are forced to work at her Aunt Paula’s “factory” being paid by the piece for “finishing” items. The “factory” is a sweatshop, Kimberly and several other workers that are under the age of eighteen are forced to hide on a day when inspectors come. Kimberly vows to work very hard to get from under the horrible conditions, using the only talent she has – a talent for school -.
Kimberly works very hard to excel in her classes and works hard to adjust and make friends in her urban elementary school and later, her almost all white college preparatory school, all while trying to balance the horrible working conditions and her shameful living conditions.
Throughout all of this Kimberly manages to make close friends like Annette, a white girl from a middle class family who attends school with her, and Matt, a fellow Chinese immigrant and fellow child worker at the sweatshop.
Kwok does an excellent job of capturing the way Kimberly has to learn how to translate the way her mother and her aunt speak to each other. They use metaphors and what westerners would consider “underhanded” or “tap dancing around the issue” in matters such as trying to get Aunt Paula to move them to a better apartment. Kimberly has to learn how to translate what they say to each other as well as translating from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English.
Overall Rating: 5/5