I have a new “go to” recommendation for infrequent readers needing a book for vacation. It’s perfect: 303 pages of pure delight about a young girl who comes to America with her mother and their struggle to find their place in the country.
Better yet, while the book calls itself a novel it is clearly based on the background of the author who emigrated to America from Hong Kong which gives the book both a feeling of substance and authenticity.
In the opening scenes our heroine Kimberly Chang and her mother are beginning their new life in Brooklyn with the “help” of Kimberly’s Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob. It turns out that Aunt Paula is desperately jealous of Kimberly’s mother and so this help does not feel as generous or expansive as you would expect to be offered to family. Kimberly and her mother spend their first days with with Aunt Paula and her family in a tense environment and then are left on their own in a cold and dirty apartment and a job in Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob’s sweatshop.
Their life is difficult but Kimberly and her mother do everything they can to survive these circumstances which include using the oven as their only heat source and killing the roaches and rats that live with them. They often bring work home to meet the unrealistic quotas of the sweat shop.
Kimberly’s talent back in Hong Kong was school. Yet academic success is much harder to find in America since she does not speak English. After several months her brilliant mind begins to shine brightly enough to capture the attention of the school administrators. This recognition must be humbly acknowledged so as not to put their home and job at risk since Aunt Paula would be jealous if Kimberly was thought to be smarter than her cousins.
Along the way Kimberly finds a best friend named Annette who provides a look at the contrast between Kimberly’s life and the life of the upper middle class. She also finds a boyfriend and the struggles that come with a first young love.
Kimberly is a girl in translation as she learns to move between her worlds of hardship and ultimately triumph in a story that will keep you interested until you finish the last page.