Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is probably the best book that I have yet to read for this project. This is a book that I think that I will come back to, again and again, and I was impressed and stunned by the craft and hope that filled the novel.
This is yet another coming of age story, as seems to be a growing theme on this blog, and I would love to use this book in a high school or college class. The novel weaves a story about Kimberly Chang, a young immigrant to the US from Hong Kong, and her movement between two worlds: the struggling life of an immigrant without a solid footing in the US, and a stunning level of academic excellence that allows many doors to open for her.
One of the things about this novel that most drew me in was the constant growth of hope throughout. Kimberly did not know what to expect at the beginning of the novel, and she worked exceedingly hard to reach her goals and dreams. There are horrible things that happen to her, but she manages to rise above them, and she defines her own identity through her experiences and goals throughout the novel.
The other thing about the novel that most appealed to me was just how Jean Kwok managed to portray learning English and being in an unfamiliar place. Throughout the earlier stages of the novel, Kwok replaced words with other similar sounding words when relating what Kimberly heard. The device worked incredibly well because it so closely mimicked the experience that someone has when learning a new language: catch a word, catch a word, no that one cannot have been right it does not make sense, and then the whole sentence gets away.
Reading Level: high school and above (maybe end of middle school)
Could be paired with: coming of age narratives, immigrant narratives
This collection of short stories by Sefi Atta spans three continents, several generations, and a range of lifestyles and wealth levels in its characters. Through the lenses of various vignettes, the stories show a mosaic of Nigeria and some of the problems that it faces. Each character is impressively different and alive on the page, and Atta succeeds at transporting the reader to an entirely different landscape with her words.
Of all the stories in the volume, the final story “Yahoo Yahoo,” which is the longest, struck me the most. Possibly this is because the story gave me the most time to understand its characters. The views presented in the earlier vignettes in the volume all come together for the final story, weaving a narrative of culture and history to better understand the final story.
That final story, “Yahoo Yahoo,” could be easily incorporated in a coming of age narratives unit in a high school level English class. The entire volume would make an interesting read at the University level to discuss shifting points of view and how narrative voices influence a story.
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents tells the story of a family forced to flee from the Dominican Republic during a time of political upheaval. Most of the narrative is through the eyes of the four daughters, making their way through a new and confusing landscape in America.
The narrative does not follow a chronological pattern, instead mimicking the patterns of memory and storytelling. Each of the four girls remembers life in the Dominican Republic and the experience of growing up between worlds a bit differently, and this could easily be turned into an examination of unreliable narrators.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, finding the voices of each of the central characters interesting and compelling. All four of the girls was very much lost in parts of the novel, but each of them felt a sort of loneliness because she believed herself to be the only one on some level. The novel is also an interesting look at family ties and how they shape the individuals within the family.
Reading Level: high school and above
Could be Paired With: coming of age narratives