Book Review | Girl in Translation

Title: Girl in Translation

Author: Jean Kwok

My Review:

When Kimberly Chang and her mother first arrive in New York from Hong Kong, they have little to recommend them. Neither speaks very much English, they owe an incredible debt to Ma’s older sister for bring them to the United States, and the apartment building they live in might as well be condemned. In addition to being a good student, Kimberly also puts in long hours at the sweatshop helping her mother make mere pennies from finishing dresses, pants, and skirts.

Despite all of the obstacles she faces, Kimberly thrives in school and has a promising future. Because of her incredible math skills, she earns scholarships to prestigious schools and makes plans to provide for her mother, who has always had her best interests at heart. As she starts to fit in with her classmates, she finds she still has to keep her other life a secret.

Jean Kwok’s incredible debut Girl in Translation is based loosely on her own experiences when she first came to the United States as an immigrant. Kimberly is so vividly written that her victories felt my own, and her failings caused my own heart to start chipping away. The writing is beautiful yet sad, and I found myself hanging on to each and every word. I wanted every happiness for both Kimberly and her mother, who suffered enough because of Aunt Paula’s cruelness and jealousy.

Girl in Translation is more than just a girl’s coming of age story; it is also a romance. Kimberly’s heart belongs to Matt, a slightly older boy whose mother also works at the sweatshop. Matt never truly feels worthy of Kimberly because she has this other life, and for a short time Kimberly settles on a boy from her prestigious school. Eventually they find their way together, and what happens next changes their lives in ways they had never anticipated.

This book had me hooked from the very start, reminding me of a sort of Cinderella modern day fairy tale. It’s not predictable, though–especially with how Kimberly’s story ends. Jean Kwok has an astounding voice, and I cannot wait to see what she will right next.

*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.*


Jen currently lives in Utah with her family, and enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. She is active on popular book websites including,, and

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