Lately, I’ve become more interested in reading books where the main characters come from a similar background to me. Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok, definitely fits my criteria: we’re both Chinese.
Girl in Translation is about a young immigrant, Kimberly Chang, and her mother, moving to the States with the help of her mother’s older sister. Kimberly and her mother are forced to live in a squalid Brooklyn apartment, and Kimberly must do her best to work hard at school during the day, which isn’t easy, since she speaks little English and work hard for very little money at her aunt’s factory during the evenings.
Kwok brings to life the poverty and hardship that Kimberly and her mother must endure, and I found myself understanding Kimberly’s point of view when it came to friends (she makes friends with Annette, who keeps asking Kimberly over to her house, or to hang out, and Kimberly nearly always makes excuses. I know this sounds weird, like why would you refuse, but it’s difficult to explain why. Just go with it, okay?), and regretting my work ethic during Year 12 (Kimberly works so hard, and has a genuine love of learning). Kwok’s use of literally translating Cantonese phrases into English made me smile, because when I translated the strange sayings, like “eyes red”, back into Cantonese, it totally made sense. “Eyes red”, by the way, is translated into “眼紅”, and means “to be jealous”. It was the little details, like Kimberly’s mother not understanding why it was weird to offer Kimberly’s teacher a gift of a chicken drumstick (it might be normal to people who can afford it, but it’s a luxury for people in poverty), that made the story feel so real to me, because I understood where she was coming from.
I would definitely recommend reading Girl in Translation, and one thing that I took away from reading it is that not being in poverty, and not having a language barrier means that I should be using my advantages and working to my full potential. Also, if you do come across strange phrases that don’t make sense in English, try using Google Translate to translate it into Chinese and back into English again. If anything, at least you’ll be learning some colloquial Cantonese phrases!