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96 of 112 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the story and I did finish it with some feeling of attachment to the main character.

Having said that, I think the author treated the adolescent immigrant experience a bit too superficially for the story to have been truly satisfying. I compare the story to Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, another 1st person autobiographical but fictional account of a teenager trying to fit into a "foreign" culture, and Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, and wish that Girl in Translation could've read as deeply as those two books. I also write this with personal knowledge of the Chinese immigrant experience - my mother too worked in a garment factory and we lived in a roach-infested apartment, had to rely on doing well in school to get out of poverty, etc. - but I didn't feel that this story captured the deeper issues that come along with growing up in such an environment. The book focused too much on the poverty (way too many descriptions of the cold apartment and roaches and rats) and Kimberly's academic performance. When I was growing up I struggled alot with identity issues (cultural; familial (my role in the family since as a child I was given adult responsibility)), idealism (the painfully disappointing realization that my life was different from that of my American friends), a sense of not belonging anywhere (feeling neither Chinese nor American), resentment against my parents, the very people who were sacrificing for me (for being expected to be the adult, for being pushed to excel at school without emotional support) and guilt (for wanting freedom, hating my life, not respecting my parents (because I started to look down on them for needing me), wanting to be American), etc. The issues that immigrant children and teens face are ENORMOUS and complex and the book didn't really touch on these themes.

So, without the necessary depth, this story became, to me anyway, another story of an Asian American "whiz kid" - the kid who comes to the US with little or no English and money and then rises to the top academically and professionally.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sometimes you pick up a book and think, "Boy, I'm gonna love this." "Girl in Translation" promised to give that rare glimpse into the world of Hong Kong immigrants. What is more fascinating than seeing how real people live...not the usual Danielle Steele fare about over-sexed billionaire superlovers and their exotic mistresses, but a chance to be an unseen guest at the dinner table, to get an inside look at a culture that is worlds away from ours. Unfortunately, "Lost in Translation" doesn't deliver. The characters are sketchy at best. The rich culture of the Chinese community emerges only superficially. This could have been a thought-provoking, compelling journey into a fascinating world. Instead, the first 3/4 of the book are more like an Afterschool Special.

Kimberly, who is 12 years old when we meet her, and her widowed mother are brought to NYC from Hong Kong by the mother's well-to-do older sister. Auntie's fortune was secured by marrying a suitor rejected by Kimberly's mom, who chose to wed an impoverished musician instead.

When Kim's father dies, the Aunt sends for them, promising a good life and offering her sister a job tutoring the Aunt's son in Chinese. Turns out, Auntie is jealous, mean-spirited and parsimonious. Rather than the tutoring position, she places the mother in the garment district sweatshop owned by her husband.

This is a factory that would make Charles Dickens cringe. Amid choking air full of swirling dust and fabric particles, with demonic presses belching out boiling steam into the miasma, and the roar of sewing machines endlessly churning out cheap clothing, the workers struggle to keep up with quotas and eke a living doing piecework. Piecework, by the way, is a hellacious but lucrative (and illegal) practice beloved of the Free Market System. Workers (usually undocumented and always unskilled) are paid not by the hour, but by "the piece" -- usually pennies per piece and just a fraction of the most minimum of lawful wages.

The housing Auntie provides is worse than the factory: filthy, unheated and derelict. In this condemned building, in the heart of the Brooklyn ghetto, Kim and Ma, live as best they can, with no glass in the windows, hot and cold running cockroaches, and a few broken bits of furniture. To keep warm, Kim and her "Ma" wrap themselves in pieces cut from a scavenged roll of lime green plush intended for stuffed animals. No matter how much they scrimp, how hard they work, there is no chance they'll ever get ahead. Auntie, who collects the rent and may indeed own the rat trap (despite claiming it is the property of an unseen Mr. Norman), charges them top dollar for the apartment. Auntie also insists that, in addition to the inflated rent, they repay her the costs of their transportation from Hong Kong. She also dings them for a "deposit" on the apartment (!) and the broken odds and sods of furniture that she obviously picked up off the stree. And naturally, being a savvy business woman, she piles a tidy
"interest" on top. To repay this debt will take years and keeps Kim and her Ma impoverished, hungry, cold and under Auntie's thumb.

This would seem bleak and hopeless, except for one saving grace: Kim is a brilliant student. After a little initial difficulty while learning the language, she proves to be a genius in science and math, achieving perfect test scores. She is given a scholarship to a high-tone prep school and eventually a full scholarship to Yale because of her (rather unbelievable) level of genius. This gal is so bright, she works all night in the factory helping her mom, never cracks a book, and gets perfect scores on every test she takes including the SATs. It kind of stretches the imagination, because Kim's behaviour, quite frankly, just isn't that bright for the most part.

We get to share Kim's high school romances, which are about as interesting as you might imagine. We get a little more unbelievability thrown in (probably to amp up the book's teen appeal: the cutest, most popular boy in school falls for Kim. He's rich, artistic, kind and every girls dream date. But Kim is drawn to Matt, a cocky young Chinese man who works along side her at the factory. Matt, by the way, is the handsomest, most popular boy in the factory. AHA, we have conflict. The story takes couple of major twists that a discerning reader can just barely see coming.

Anyway, I think you see what I mean about "Afterschool Special" here. What we lack is any insight into how Kim's mother put food on the table, how they actually lived from day to day, what it was like shopping without knowing the language, what they ate, how the other workers survived. We learn more about the middle class white students who are Kim's friends -- but I already knew about them. I would have loved more about the Chinese immigrant experience beyond the repetitions of conditions in the factory and Kim's home. All we get of this fascinating world is the same basic description of the apartment and the factory, chapter after chapter. There are so many other places Kwok could have taken us, it's disappointing to be brought back to the same ground over the same ground over and over again.

The end of the book serves as an epilogue; we jump forward 12 years after Kim's acceptance at Yale. To say more would be a spoiler.

If you don't need a lot of meat on a story, you may enjoy this book more than I did. Most reviewers certainly seem all agog over it. I found "A Girl in Translation" too repetitious and superficial. Anyone could have written this after a day's library or internet research. Jean Kwok doesn't give us a three-dimensional look at the lives her characters live, she doesn't crate believable characters, and we get a very shallow portrait of emigrant life. The book doesn't deliver on its promise and doesn't rise about "young adult" level. Too bad, because this could have been an unforgettable journey into a largely unknown (at least to us in the West)world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I believe this book should be classified as a teen fiction book. I felt the storyline had potential, but didn't think the author really developed the characters to their fullest potential.

Kimberly and her mother arrive from Hong Kong with the help of her aunt. As an immigrant Kimberly must learn how to navigate her new surroundings, master a new language, deal with extreme poverty, and help her mother pay back her debt to her aunt. Kimberly comes of age while working under horrendous conditions in a Chinatown factory and successfully dedicating herself to her studies. During these years, she discovers the meaning of true friendship, experiences love for the first time, and learns to make tough choices.

This story nicely tells the typical experience of many immigrants. However, I felt the author didn't fully explore the characters' personalities and the story wrapped up abruptly. Again, I felt the writing was more appropriate for a teen fiction novel. I gave it three stars because the story does convey typical immigrant struggles, but I felt there could have been more to the story.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I guess I was expecting more from this book because of reviews that I had read.

It is interesting reading, and based on my knowledge of what some of my immigrant students have experienced, it is probably accurate to some extent.

However, while the story develops nicely through the first 2/3rds, the ending is rushed and disappointing.

I read this with an eye to using it with my senior AP students, but I now would classify it more as "young adult literature" and would use it only with younger students. I think it would leave the seniors with too many questions begging to be answered and too many loose ends begging to be tied.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book took awhile to get into, but once I hit about page 75, I had a hard time putting it down. I really enjoyed the first-person POV, especially experiencing the main character's maturity and shedding of self-consciousness right alongside her. Up until the end, I would've given this book four stars -- maybe even five. Those final pages just felt very abrupt and predictable. So while I thought the character development and story build-up were stellar, I closed the book feeling very unsatisfied.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I'll cut right to the chase here--

This book made great reading, up until the very end (Epilogue). I felt the author had taken an in-depth story and wrapped it up in an unrealistic cliche.

It was as if I had been eating a scrumptious dessert and my last mouthful contained a bug--the entirely enjoyable experience was negated by an unexpected and disappointing surprise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Hard to decide between (3) or (4) stars. The story of a Chinese girl struggling and ultimately achieving in the US has some heart wrenching moments, but the romantic subplot didn't quite work for me. The most emotional scenes were between Kimberly and her mother. Those moments were the best part of the book.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Although an easy read with an autobiographic bent that is interesting, this book did not capture me. The characters are one dimensional at best and do not have enough development to be fully understood and interesting. The two track story line of factory and school got tedious after awhile. I think If I had to point out the greatest weakness in this novel, it is the lack of soul in the main characters. I empathized with the difficult immigrant experience that Kimberly experienced but I never fully connected to the cast of characters in this book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Overall, I enjoyed the storyline, but it frequently stretched my imagination further than was comfortable, believable. Ages of personalities and circumstances just did not always add up. Nonetheless, I wanted to read to the conclusion. The concept of a young girl moving into a completely different culture and facing multiple adjustments was a good one to contemplate since it occurs frequently here in the U.S.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This a great story of cultural assimilation. It's about an 11 year old girl that moves to NYC from Hong Kong. She and her mother struggle with unbelievable poverty as they try to navigate their way around their new surroundings. The book starts strong, but the ending feels contrived...as if Kwok was forcing a happy ending to the story.
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