Review: Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok

Hi Munchworms!

As some of you may know – if you also follow my Instagram or Twitter – I was at a festival this weekend. This was supposed to equal “no reading”. Yet, my body decided it was time to have an “almost migraine”-day on Saturday. Thanks to that I had half a day of reading time. Yay for not being able to leave home without a book or two!

The book I started reading last week was Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. If you read my previous blog, you might remember seeing this book as a TBR. So now I got to tick off the advanced prompt “A book about an immigrant or refugee”.

For those of you who don’t know what the book is about, here’s the synopsis:

Kimberly Chang and her mother move from Hong Kong to New York. A new life awaits them – making a new home in a new country. But all they can afford is a verminous, broken-windowed Brooklyn apartment. The only heating is an unreliable oven. They are deep in debt.

And neither speaks one word of English.

Yet there is hope. Eleven-year-old Kim goes to school. And though cut off by an alien language and culture and forced by poverty to work nights in a sweatshop, she finds the classroom challenges liberating. In books and learning she’ll be saved. But can Kim successfully turn the lost girl from Hong Kong into a happy American woman? And should she?

Honestly, this is one of those books that I would’ve never read if it wasn’t for the Popsugar Reading Challenge. I started reading it with an open mind and once again, it’s one of the books I’m glad to have discovered and read.

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When I bought this book, the cover was immediate proof that I would never have picked it out myself. It’s very simple and, when feeling it, the book feels as if it’s made out of recycled paper. Feels old, but is new. In a strange way, I kind of liked that.

After I read the synopsis, I assumed that Girl in Translation would contain a lot of character development and I was immediately intrigued by how two people would survive in a foreign country, which a culture and language completely different from their own.

After a slow start – slow, but not “I have to fight to keep on reading”-slow – I soon completely crawled inside the book and took in everything it had to offer.

The writing itself had one unique component that I absolutely loved and by which you notice how the main character, Kim, is learning English. You’ll see exactly what I mean in the next two quotes:

“Our new student, eye-prezoom?”

“This is a pop quick,” he said. “Fill in allde captal see T’s.”

Another interesting and – to me – fun aspect of Joan Kwok’s writing style is that she uses Chinese sayings, literally translated into English, and then explains what the actual meaning is. Of course I had to include a Chinese saying that has to do with rice, cause… Come on! They’re still Chinese…

“Hey, someone has to find the rice right?” To earn the money.

“He’s got a human heart too.” She meant he had compassion and depth.

Because of all the details that are given in the book, you’d imagine it’d get boring after a while. But this wasn’t the case at all. On the contrary. All the information you get, all the little details, make sure you experience Girl in Translation as more than just a bystander.
This book really got to me in terms of feeling how Kimberly and her mother experience all difficulties that come with their immigration. Not only that, but also the way they are treated by both strangers and family members.

All in all, Girl in Translation is a very confronting book when it comes to themes as poverty, immigration, acceptance and humanity. It also made me realize how much we really take for granted, while others – who have it so much worse – appreciate the things we don’t even realize are worth being grateful for.

We all fight for what we want; we are all pressured by the standards of society and have a hard time living up to those. Yet… Imagine trying to achieve them while you have absolutely nothing to aid you in that fight. Nothing, except for your own being, your own willpower and wisdom. When you really have to fight to have even a fraction of what “normal” people have?

“I too would be expected to become attractive and well-rounded.”

If you want to read about someone who fights to achieve exactly that – a “normal” life that is acceptable according to our society – you have to pick up this book and start reading.

Yes. It will be confronting. It will make you think about the things you have and take for granted. It will make you pause and reflect on friendships and how sincere they must be to really contribute something to life. Your gratitude for everything and everyone in your life will increase. So I’m saying this is a must read.

Because of the slowish start, I’m giving this book a 4,5/5 and the final message to you guys that you should add this to your TBR!

Have any of you read this book yet? What did you think about it?
And even better: are you planning on reading Girl in Translation?

I’m off to my next read: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.



I paid full-price for this book and this is my honest review for which I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own

2 thoughts on “Review: Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok

  1. Great review! This sounds like something the bookworm would love. The writing style is such an interesting idea. I might just add this to my TBR…and get around to it a few years or so 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      Haha, pretty sure that’s always the case when we add books to our TBR.. Or we do a TBR-purge in a few years and don’t even remember why we added a book in the first place.. :’)


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