Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Girl in Translation

When you find a blog you instantly relate to, you know you've met a kindred soul and often that means that the books they review favorably will be books you enjoy, as well. Thus, when my friend Catherine, who writes at A Spirited Mind, wrote up her end-of-year favorites, I not only scanned for 2016, but also for the past six years. I'm so glad I did because it led to this gem of a book, Girl in Translation. Catherine reviewed it on her blog six years ago and said she rarely cries at books, but this one brought her to tears. While I wasn't tugged to the point of tears (possibly because I listened in audio form), I would agree that it was a well-executed and intensely compelling book.

Author Jean Kwok probably drew from first-hand experience to tell the story of Kimberly Chang, a young immigrant girl from Hong Kong. Like Kimberly, Kwok immigrated to Brooklyn, worked in a sweatshop, and ended up in an Ivy League school. So often personal pain becomes gold when it is spun into fiction. Readers follow Kimberly's struggles to fit in with limited language skills, a deplorable living situation, and the standard challenges of balancing two cultures. Thanks to a knack for school, Kimberly manages to rise above the insurmountable obstacles, but not without a few bumps and some heartache along the way.

I enjoyed this book for many of the same reasons Catherine outlines in her review. The level of description is enough to pull you into the story without overloading on minute details. The characters are well-drawn and the plot well-paced. Best of all, I appreciated how Kwok brought Kimberly to a cross-roads (a point where I feared the story would veer down a path I couldn't bear to follow) and followed her choice to reveal both the benefits and drawbacks of her chosen path. You certainly couldn't tell that this was a debut effort. The author skillfully presents a story of cross-cultural experience accessible to all readers.

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