Girl in Translation was a fictional version of the author’s own childhood as an Asian American immigrant who landed in a sweat shop. Even though the narrator, Kimberly Chang, was a middle school girl, I imagine that her story would speak to a large audience. After her father died, Kimberly’s mother, Ma, moved them to New York so that Kimberly could have an opportunity to make something of her life. As Ma slaved away at a low wage job in a garment factory, Kimberly faced bullying in school during the day and then helped her mother meet her quota of skirts in the factory at night. The story contained both funny and horrible tales that portrayed an immigrant’s life in a way that quickly elevated this book to one of my favorites this year. The American Dream wasn’t exactly wrapped in a pink bow when Kimberly arrived. They lived in a dirty, rat infested apartment without heat, but watching Ma try to make it livable and provide Kimberly with the things she needed to feel accepted (like Western underwear) was touching. As mother and daughter tried to make their lives the best they could, their resilient spirits became the heart of the novel. Kimberly’s initial struggle with the language lead her to make embarrassing missteps in front of her classmates. When Kimberly finally caught on to school and excelled, her teachers assumed she cheated since they didn’t think Asians were smart. That part of the book struck me the most, as I considered what it would be like to be constantly doubted for being a minority. By the end, Kimberly reached for the dreams her mother wanted her to achieve even though she still worked crazy shifts to makes ends meet. The last few pages demonstrated that she was willing to make very hard decisions to elevate herself from the poverty she once experienced.
There was a light quality to the wording that allowed Kimberly to discuss heavy topics in a way that made her an endearing character. I’m very pleased to have purchased this book and already passed iton. What a great read!