Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Pub: Riverhead Books
Source: Advance Reader Copy (ARC)
It is amazing to imagine sweatshops & child labor in modern America but they do exist. What would it be like to move to a foreign country at age 12 and be surrounded by a strange language? To be sponsored by your mother’s sister only to find yourself living in a roach infested abandoned building and forced to work alongside your mother in your aunt’s garment factory sweatshop to repay her “generosity”?
Kimberly’s only possible ticket out of this stifling poverty is education. She was always the top pupil in her Chinese schools but the rules seem so different here and the language barrier appear daunting. The author uses creative spelling to allow us to hear what Kimberly hears and sense the confusion that she experiences in her new world.
Like Kimberly’s school friend, Annette, it will be hard for the reader to comprehend that such poverty really exists in modern America. We want to see America as the land of opportunity and that the only people who might live in such conditions do so because they have no work ethic. Do ‘normal’ people really live in abandoned buildings with only the oven as a heat source? Building infested with rats and roaches? We see that the answer is yes, people do what they feel they must, especially when they are even more afraid of the imagined alternatives. Out of embarrassment and to preserve her dignity, Kimberly keeps their poverty and the details of their living condition a secret from her school mates for 6 years.
Due to her success in school, Kimberly and her mother will escape a life of poverty but this is a bittersweet victory knowing that this route is not available to many in similar circumstances. The story ends in the second to the last chapter with Kimberly graduating high school and making choices, and like most 18 year-olds, she makes some good choices and some not so good ones. The final chapter skips ahead 12 years to show us the outcome of those choices and the heartache that even the best choices bring.
I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than to help readers be more empathetic when they see others who are ‘different’, whatever the reason. I would also like to thank the publisher, Riverhead Books, for sending me an advanced reader copy of this book and wish the author much success when the book hits store shelves later this month.
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