We’re Coming to America: Girl in Translation

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Hi my pandas! Today, I’m going to be reviewing the book I read for the Asian Immigrant MC square: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this book to be honest because I wasn’t even sure what it really was: YA or adult? Memoir with a few creative liberties or fiction? To be honest, I’m still not quite sure how to categorize this book, but it ended up being a very insightful, interesting, and highly recommendable read.

I give this book an 8.5 out of 10 star rating!

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One day, I promise I’ll actually do this summary myself, but today is not that day. When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

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I think one of the most important things you first have to know about this book is that it is #ownvoices, actually written with a lot of the material based on Jean Kwok’s life. This means that this story is authentic, and therefore a very important voice to listen to when you want to delve deeper into learning about immigration. I myself am actually a first generation American, and while my parents were fortunate enough to fluently speak English and get settled here in better circumstances, I always want to learn more about the immigration experiences of others. This book sheds light on all the difficulties that many immigrants have, from trying to learn a new language, to finding good housing, to even just making enough money to survive.

The first half of the book is truly focused on what it was like for Kimberly when she first arrived in Brooklyn. Kimberly is a highly intelligent and practical girl, and I instantly liked reading from her perspective. Because this book is written in first person, it’s much easier to connect with Kimberly and view her experiences through her lens rather than my own. One interesting thing that the author did was demonstrate exactly how Kimberly heard the speech of various English speakers, demonstrating the gaps in communication that made it very difficult for her to understand others at times. Kimberly was also a very descriptive and vivid narrator, and all these components truly made for a valuable insight into her life.

The second half of the book still mentions aspects of Kimberly’s experience as an American immigrant, but it begins to focus more on things such as her love life. To be honest, I kind of had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, obviously it’s important to tell narratives about immigrants where that is not the sole focus. On the other hand, it was a bit disorienting to suddenly focus on romance all of a sudden. I also would have liked to see a little bit more about how Kimberly’s experiences as an immigrant shaped her life even as she grew older and had been in America for a longer time.

All in all, I think this is a really important read and that everyone should experience Girl in Translation. It’s a truly insightful and eye-opening book, so I hope you can go pick it up soon!

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