I loved the first half of this book. Jean Kwok goes into detail about how hard it was to come to America as a child. They lived in an apartment full of bugs that didn't have heat - ever - for the eight years they lived there. She was sent to school knowing only a few words of English and was mistreated by students, teachers, and administration. It seems that most of this part of the book is autobiographical. It felt authentic, and my heart hurt for this poor little girl and her mother.
In the second half of the book, time began to pass faster and faster, which I didn't like. I wanted more detail. I wanted to know how things happened, not just be told that they did. The main character, Kimberly, started making more and more impulsive decisions, and it felt like the reasons behind it were never really addressed. The epilogue gave a bit more detail and some insight into her character. Still, I wasn't quite satisfied with the answer. I really wanted to experience the years in between the end of the book and the epilogue, not just skip them. I wanted Kwok to use the same detail and observation that she did at the beginning.
In an interview about the book, Kwok said that she started writing it for her mother, who seems to be very similar to the mother in the book. In many ways it was a tribute to her, even though she is not the main character. The daughter is the one who makes a better life for them, but her mother is always supportive of her, works incredibly hard, and always believes that things will be ok.
Even though I didn't like all of the book, I think the beginning especially is excellent. It creates such a devastating picture of what life is really like for so many immigrants. I think stories like this are essential in creating empathy, and I love that part of it. Kwok also does something unique with the dialogue in the book - she writes what the girl hears, italicizing the words that she can't quite understand, to give an impression of what it's like to learn a new language. I think it's brilliant.