The story of young Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrating to New York from Hong Kong told in Girl in Translation crystallizes hardships that immigrants undergo. The family experiences financial troubles, exploitation, and discrimination on its way to prosperity. At first, Kimberly lives in a crummy Brooklyn flat without heating but with a lot of insects, working with her mother in a garment factory after school. The girl’s talent for science is initially dismissed due to her origins. Nevertheless, she manages to earn a prestigious scholarship, granting herself an academic success. As Kimberly says herself, “Brains are beautiful” (Kwok, 2011, p. 192). The book coincides with many other immigration tales in this aspect – a protagonist overcomes deprivation and societal judgment through hard work and perseverance. These narrative elements make Girl in Translation inspiring even though it does not impress with the plot’s freshness.
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In addition to an immigration story, Girl in Translation appears to be a coming-of-age story. Despite being an overachiever and having a strong character Kimberly is not invulnerable to peer pressure which makes the girl more relatable. The fact that she has a romantic life, works hard at a factory, and is successful in school is rather difficult to believe. Moreover, some parts of the plot focused on romance do not seem necessary for character progression. In other moments, Kimberly shows colossal resilience for her age – this quality renders the protagonist further implausible. On the other hand, this character strength is potentially indispensable to survive in the conditions that Kim and her family live. Overall, the book is a pleasant and motivating read that, at the same time, is entertaining and funny.
Kwok, J. (2011). Girl in translation. Riverhead.