Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

DATE FINISHED: September 11th, 2011

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  Kimberley Chang and her mother have high hopes for their new life in America, despite barely speaking a word of English between them.  However, it soon becomes clear that the aunt who paid for their passage has no qualms about leaving them to live in a slum rental property without heating, and having them work long factory hours for pitiful remuneration.  Will they still find a way to live the American Dream?

THOUGHTS:  The narrative is quiet and understated; an easy read.  But Kimberley and her mother face their challenges so stoically, it is hard to see them as challenges.  There is no sense of tension or of real struggle.  Kimberley goes to school, quickly picks up the language, makes friends, earns scholarships, and her trajectory is clear from the outset.  No obstacle takes more than a paragraph or two to easily sidestep.  This is a story of supreme hope for the immigrant, with no surprises.

Despite the quotes on the cover, I found little ‘astonishing’, ‘dazzling’ or ‘captivating’ about this story.  It was likeable and ordinary.  Like No and Me by Delphine de Vigan it would be a good crossover book from young adult to adult fiction, a coming of age story told from a teenage perspective in clear, solid prose and evoking the clash of cultures between East and West; but I can think of little else to recommend it.

FOLLOWING ON:  For a completely different experience of a Chinese teenager in the total immersion school of Western culture, try A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo.


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