America: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Triumph Over Adversity)
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Kimberly Chang is eleven years old when she and her mother move from Hong Kong to America with the help of Aunt Paula. In New York they start their long and arduous struggle to assimilate into a new and foreign culture while trying to remain true to the ingrained values and customs of their heritage.
Aunt Paula wears a mask of piety and familial devotion like a snake skin that sheds and quickly reveals her ugly core of darkness and spite. With family like this, who need enemies? Aunt Paula has Kimberly and her mother literally working for pennies in her clothing sweatshop in Brooklyn, while keeping them holed away in a roach-infested building with no heat. With the guise of being helpful, she oppresses them in inhumane living conditions. Despite the negative pull of the daunting life of factory work and atrocious living situation, Kimberly knows that the only way to overcome their circumstances and create a new life for her and her mother is to excel in school so she can go to college and get a good job. Her sheer determination is inspiring. It made me want to enroll in a night class, any class, to better my sluggish self.
This book pulled me in right from the beginning. The financial hardships and language barriers Kimberly and Mrs. Chang faced seemed almost insurmountable and yet their optimism and extremely hard work slowly nudged them forward. Their story was compelling. It urged me on, page by page. I was hooked and I found it hard to put the book down. It was an inspiring story of courage and resolve, a definite thumbs-up.
I’m not sure how much of this book was autobiographical, but according to the back cover, like Kimberly, “Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong and as a child immigrated to Brooklyn, where she worked with her family in a sweatshop. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia.” Wow.
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