Girl in Translation


Jean Kwok

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Girl in Translation Characters


Kim is a Chinese immigrant and the protagonist of the novel. She and Ma immigrate to New York when Kim is eleven years old. Though Kim had been a star student in Hong Kong, she… read analysis of Kim


Ma, Kim’s mother, is a former music teacher and musician, who now works at a garment factory in New York. As a young woman, Ma married Pa for love, though she became a widow… read analysis of Ma


Annette is Kim's first and only friend at school. Her skin is so pale as to be translucent, which Kim finds fascinating. For the first year of school, Annette helps Kim in class by… read analysis of Annette


Matt is Kim's only real friend at the factory. At first, he and his mother, Mrs. Wu, and younger brother, Park, work at the thread cutting table, though Matt later moves up… read analysis of Matt

Aunt Paula

The antagonist of the novel, Aunt Paula is Ma's older sister and Kim’s aunt. She moved to the U.S. thirteen years prior to the start of the novel after marrying Uncle Bob. She… read analysis of Aunt Paula
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Curt is the only boy at Harrison Prep that Kim seriously dates. When Kim begins at Harrison, Curt goes along with Greg's bullying, though he begins to come around in high school when Kim… read analysis of Curt

Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob is Aunt Paula's husband; he's a wealthy Chinese-American who went to Hong Kong to find a wife. Kim learns later that he did this because Uncle Bob has a limp and walks… read analysis of Uncle Bob

Mr. Bogart

Mr. Bogart is Kim's first teacher at school. He's tall, and Kim initially thinks that he's strangely bald, though she eventually realizes he's just blonde. His teaching methods don't make school easy for Kim… read analysis of Mr. Bogart


Luke is a boy in Kim's first class who's known for bullying and fighting, something he's especially good at given that he's been held back several years and is much bigger than his classmates… read analysis of Luke


Vivian is Matt's girlfriend and later, his wife. Kim is extremely envious of Vivian not just because she also loves Matt, but because Vivian is gorgeous, genuinely nice, and extremely charming. Her father works… read analysis of Vivian

Dr. Weston

Dr. Weston is the guidance counselor and psychiatrist at Harrison Prep who conducts Kim's school admissions interview. She appears unused to dealing with such low-income students, as her secretary mistakenly asks if Ma is… read analysis of Dr. Weston

Dr. Copeland

Dr. Copeland is the head of the math and science department at Harrison Prep. She's very concerned when Kim is accused of cheating on tests, especially when in the months after the accusation, Kim continues… read analysis of Dr. Copeland

Mrs. LaGuardia

Mrs. LaGuardia is the principal at Kim's first public school. Though students tease her about her name's association with the LaGuardia airport, she's generally well liked and respected. She approaches Kim about applying for… read analysis of Mrs. LaGuardia

Mr. Scoggins

Mr. Scoggins is one of Kim's teachers her first year at Harrison Prep. He is intent on teaching his students about current events and instructs them to either read their parents' newspapers or speak… read analysis of Mr. Scoggins


Park is Matt's younger brother. He's mentally disabled and doesn't speak, which in Chinese culture is seen as a stain on the entire family. To combat this, Mrs. Wu allows people to think that… read analysis of Park


Pa is Kim's father and Ma’s husband; he died suddenly of a heart attack when Kim was three and so never appears in the novel. He was the principal of a school where… read analysis of Pa


Nelson is Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob's oldest son, who is the same age as Kim. Nelson and Kim don't like each other and are actively pitted against each other as rivals in… read analysis of Nelson

Mr. Al

Mr. Al is a black man who lives on the same street as Kim and Ma. He operates a shop and an apartment building, and he's very interested in Chinese culture. Kim teaches him… read analysis of Mr. Al


Tammy is an Indian student at Harrison Prep, and at first, Kim wonders if they might be able to be friends given their shared minority status. However, Tammy and Sheryl conspire to set Kim up… read analysis of Tammy

Mrs. Avery

Mrs. Avery is Annette's mother. She's an extremely kind and caring woman. She's also a real estate agent, and when Annette becomes aware of Kim and Ma's living situation, Mrs. Avery is able… read analysis of Mrs. Avery

Mr. Jamali

Mr. Jamali is a Pakistani librarian at Harrison Prep. He also runs the theater program. Kim is entranced because Mr. Jamali is one of the only men at school who doesn't wear a suit; he… read analysis of Mr. Jamali


Jason is Kim and Matt's son, though Matt doesn't know Jason exists, and Jason doesn't know anything about his father. Ma raises Jason while Kim attends Yale and then med school. In the epilogue… read analysis of Jason

Mr. Pak

Mr. Pak works one of the steamers at Aunt Paula's factory. During a rush to complete an order, he traps his hand in a steamer, burning it badly. Matt later explains that he'll likely… read analysis of Mr. Pak
Minor Characters
Mrs. Wu
Mrs. Wu is Matt and Park's mother. She's ill for much of the novel and gets progressively worse until she dies when Kim and Matt are eighteen. To protect her family and Park in particular, Mrs. Wu allows people to think that Park is deaf rather than mentally disabled.
Tyrone Marshall
Tyrone is the smartest boy in Kim's class at her first school, something that Mr. Bogart makes a big deal out of given that Tyrone is black and poor. He's nice to Kim, and Kim nurses a crush on him for the entire time they're in school together.
Matt's Daughter
A beautiful five-year-old girl whom Kim sees in the window of a bridal shop in the prologue and the epilogue. She's the spitting image of Vivian, her mother.
Greg is a Harrison Prep student who mercilessly bullies Kim when she first starts school there. She gets him off her back by telling him she's not romantically interested in him, thereby embarrassing him in front of all his friends.
Sheryl is the most popular girl at Harrison Prep; she dates Curt for much of high school and torments Kim. It's her idea for Tammy to frame Kim for cheating on a test.
Mrs. Reynolds
Mrs. Reynolds is a math teacher at Harrison Prep. Kim is wrongfully accused of cheating in her class, and though she takes it seriously when she "discovers" her cheating, she later impresses upon Kim that she believes her innocence.
Mr. N
A businessman and distant relative of Uncle Bob's who lives in Taiwan. He owns apartment buildings in Brooklyn, including the one that Ma and Kim live in, and Aunt Paula manages them for him.
Mr. Ho
A former friend of Matt's who moves Matt and any of Matt's guests to the front of the line at the restaurant where he works. In the epilogue, he brings his young son Pete to Kim's hospital and passes Kim's card onto Matt.
Pete is a small boy with a heart problem who Kim treats when she's an adult. His father is Mr. Ho, a former friend of Matt's.
Kerry is Kim's English tutor for a year once she starts at Harrison Prep. She helps Kim with her spoken and written English.
Matt's Father
Matt's father is mostly absent from his life; he spends his days in a Chinese gambling den and lives with his girlfriend rather than his wife, Mrs. Wu.
Godfrey is Aunt Paula's youngest son; he's three at the beginning of the novel.
Mr. Avery
Mr. Avery is Annette's father.
The Housekeeper
The housekeeper at Annette's house.