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Publisher's Summary

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life--like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition--Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly's story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant--a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

©2010 Jean Kwok (P)2010 Penguin

Critic Reviews

"Searing debut novel... poignant." (USA Today)

"Kwok drops you right inside Kimberly's head, adding Chinese idioms to crisp dialogue. And the book's lesson - that every choice comes at the expense of something else - hits home in every language." (People)

"Consistently compelling." (Entertainment Weekly)

What listeners say about Girl in Translation

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
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    28
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Precious

An amazing read!!! The author draws us into the heartaches and triumphs of a Chinese American girl growing up in America. Through her life we learn much about the Chinese culture and get a peek into what it is like to grow up in this land. The narration is wonderful and you can almost see the young girl in your mind's eye. The characters are well developed and very believeable. I will probably read this again I enjoyed it so much. Worth listening to. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read(listen)!!!

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Splendid

This is a beautifully written book with compelling characters. Language plays a central role in this book, and left me with a renewed appreciation for how the constraints of one's language affects one's sense of self. The narration is also among the best I've heard. Highly recommended.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

This is a keeper

I have never written a review before although I have listened to audiobooks for years. "Girl in Translation" should come with a warning - "Do not expect to get anything done once you start this book!" The reader was wonderful and I hope to hear more of her work. A reader can, of course, only be as good as the book and hopefully Jean Kwok will follow this with another of the same quality. My only disappointment was when I heard "12 years later" and realized there was only 33 minutes left in the book. This book is a great read!

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Hope, Dreams and Determination

What a wonderful book. The story of Kimberly, a sixth grader and her Ma emigrating from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. Under the sponsorship and guise of her “well-meaning” Aunt Paula, Kimberly and her mother think they are being looked after. Instead they are used as slave/child labour in her sweatshop making pennies a day and living in Aunt Paula’s heatless, roach and rat-infested apartment slated for demolition. Kimberly goes to school all day and works all evening to help pay back their debt to Aunt Paula, to pay rent, to pay for food. But Kimberly has a gift. Besides being brilliant, she has spunk, guts, and the ability to keep things in perspective. She is a wonderful character, full of pride and heart. Kwok effectively used many Chinese idioms throughout the book that were interesting, thought provoking and gave the reader a glimpse into Chinese culture. This coming of age story takes Kimberly from a caterpillar slug and follows her journey till she emerges as a butterfly. She makes many hard choices along the way and there are questions in the reader’s mind whether those choices were right or wrong, but they are made methodically and with justification, at least in Kimberly’s mind. She thinks with her head and not her heart. Is that the one fault that rules her life? That’s up to the reader to decide.
If there is anything negative I have to say about the book, it is that it was too short. Kwok had an opportunity to uncover so many more layers and I would have eaten them up. I certainly hope she comes out with a sequel and soon.
The narrator was superb and added much personality to this book.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Grabbed Me

Halfway through this book, I would have given it two stars. But as it continued, I liked the people and the love story. Vey thought provoking and well written.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Love the story, but not so much the narrator

Half way through the book and I'm very much enjoying the story. Jean Kwok is a vivid and descriptive story teller. Kudos to her. Can't wait to start commuting each day just to listen the story.

The narrator on the other hand...when she reads in plain English, she's terrific. But I simply cannot stand, nor understand, when she voices the characters in accents. Horrendous. The Chinese accents are monotone, robotic, broken and unauthentic. The non-Chinese characters seem to have unidentifiable accents too; not sure what kind of accents they are and why they mispronounce words. Unfortunately, the accents can be quite distracting, leaving the listener a bit confused. Without the accents, reader is great.

Looking forward to finishing the story.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good here and there, not so good there and here

The book is all-in-all good, but when the author bombs the romantic scenes using corny language. I can almost see her editor suggesting how to "spice up" those scenes with phrases straight out of cheap paperbacks.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

excellent for multi/cross cultural understanding

This was fascinating on many levels. This is more than, and more interesting than, many of the "I just came to America and am struggling to fit in" stories.

1) You get a glimpse into this Chinese family's relationships, behaving within Chinese culture. For those of American heritage, what can or cannot be stated blatantly by Chinese will be perplexing, or frustrating, but always interesting. Big Sister/Auntie's behavior at first seems deplorable, but you begin to understand a little of her frustrations toward the end of the book.

2) You gain insight into what many immigrants truly go through just to survive. Not knowing how to work the system of housing and employment, lots of people are at the mercy of their own kinsmen or countrymen. Things go on that mainstream America has no inkling of.

3) You see the economic disparity of children at the same school, and how that influences friendships. Can you truly share everything with a friend?

4) You watch as teen romance bumbles along when one or more are incapable of sharing true feelings completely.

5) You agonize as two lovers, even from the same culture, cannot find enough common ground on which to forge a future together, even though separation crushes them both.

6) You see how this young girl, then young woman, works with determination and brains to achieve what she wants despite the obstacles of her situations--those thrust on her as well as those of her own making.

And then there are the educational aspects:
1) the total lack of differentiated instruction
2) the total lack of learner accommodations
3) the total lack of ESL instruction, not to mention the cultural/historical gaps immigrants struggle with
4) the assumption of cheating due to the lack of understanding of the above failings

I loved this book for its story. I cried for her triumphs and her defeats. But I also recommend this book for educators, to see a stark example of the result of failure to understand a student. May we improve in these areas.

The narration was great. The prose was read in straightforward American English pronunciation. The conversations utilized an accurate Cantonese pronunciation. Don't believe the nay-sayers; the accents were authentic. I speak Mandarin and have spent many years in China/Taiwan/Hong Kong and know the sounds. The only thing I question, but do not fault the book for, is that when people speak their native Cantonese to each other, should it sound like a foreigner's English? To me, it should be unaccented, but I found that I enjoyed the accents of the mother talking to her child because it gave more of the Chinese cultural flavor than it would have if spoken w/o accent.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Absorbing and honest look at the life of an immigrant

Great story that was so honest it has to be part memoir, and indeed when I looked up Kwok's website, it does closely mirror that of her own. It does come off a bit trite at times, but I appreciated the peek into a life that many of us might never understand. Fascinating. The narrator was ok, a little weak at times, and I do think parts of the story are improved with a Chinese immigrant accent.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

expected more

I think this is really a young adult or teen book. It starts off better than it ended. The narration is fair.

2 people found this helpful