Rating: 4.5/5 stars.
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to America, they are forced to reside in a cheap Brooklyn apartment with no heating and a copious amount of mice and roaches. To survive their horrible living conditions and financial struggles Kimberly works with her mother at a sweatshop in the afternoon while attending school in the daytime. Despite her initial inability to speak English, Kimberly works her way up to the top of the class in order to secure a better life. But when she meets Matt, a compassionate boy who also works at the sweatshop, she’ll choose between everything she’s worked so ambitiously to achieve and her first love.
I’m not a stranger when it comes to immigrant experiences – my mother and father were both immigrants, and the stories they share with me motivate me to work harder. But seriously, cockroaches? I remember one dreadful description of when Kimberly could feel the mice racing across her body as she slept… gross. Yet, even though she’s not allowed to have friends over and spends all of her time studying and working, Kimberly doesn’t whine and give up. She does everything in her power to succeed, and she does. That’s one reason why I fell in love with her voice.
That’s not to say she’s an over-achieving robot. Kimberly, as well as the other characters in this book, are relatable – Kimberly herself succumbs to peer pressure and other adolescent issues. I was rooting for her and felt personal satisfaction whenever she aced a test or rose above her cultural confusion.
My only complaint is that some of the romance that didn’t involve Matt seemed unnecessary to the plot. I understand that it was included to show how Kimberly is just like any other girl, but I doubt she would’ve had time to hang out with guys after school when her mother needed her at the sweat shop.
Overall, a 4.5. Jean Kwok has crafted a fantastic debut novel that portrays the struggle of a Chinese girl growing up in the US.