When Kim returns to Dr. Weston's office, she inadvertently offends her by saying the school is quiet. Dr. Weston speaks at length about the school's prestige and students' achievements, and then explains that the scholarship committee will need to meet about finding the funds for Kim. Kim understands almost none of this. Dr. Weston asks Kim if she'd like to attend Harrison Prep, and Kim smiles and says she likes school. She only has the vocabulary to say that she may be too different to attend. Dr. Weston picks up on Kim's meaning and explains that minority students often can't attend due to the cost, but Kim tunes out. She knows the school is too expensive.
Like her secretary, Dr. Weston clearly isn't accustomed to interviewing students who are in such dire straights financially. Kim is again at a disadvantage because of her lack of English language skills when she can’t communicate to Dr. Weston about why she feels so “different.”
Dr. Weston mentions that they may be able to get up to 50% of tuition covered. Kim knows the school is still too expensive, so she tries to leave. Dr. Weston asks if she can speak to Ma at some point, and Kim, burning with shame, says they don't have a phone and that Ma works and doesn't speak English.
By asking to speak to Ma, Dr. Weston shows that she expects parents to be involved in their students' schooling; something that Ma and Kim recognize is a luxury they cannot afford. Essentially, this makes Kim's poverty even clearer to Dr. Weston.
In class the next week, Kim mentions her interview to Annette. Annette wants to know if Kim thinks she passed the admissions test, which she insists was very hard. Kim is too ashamed to say that she passed but cannot afford to go. She tries to tell Annette that she actually doesn't want to go, and Annette declares that she'll stay in public school too.
Remember that Kim didn't find the test particularly difficult; this offers some hope that her knack for academics might be enough to get her over the money hurdle. Annette’s parents won’t actually let her stay in public school just for Kim’s sake, but Kim still recognizes her friend’s kind offer.
As the end of the school year approaches, students buy autograph books to have their friends sign. Ma even agrees to buy Kim one. Kim writes the same thing in everyone's books but Annette and Tyrone's; she writes in Annette's that they're best friends and in Tyrone's, she wishes him protection from the gods in Chinese. Ma buys Kim a pretty dress for 1,500 skirts to wear to her graduation ceremony. Ma is sad they can't afford Harrison, but declares they'll make the best of it. For weeks leading up to graduation, Kim is sick with worry about Ma's reaction when she finally gets Kim's reports card and learns that Kim isn't doing as well as she did in Hong Kong.
Kim likely feels so worried about Ma's reaction because she desperately wants to impress Ma and make her proud. In addition to shame, one of the reasons Kim feels so alone is because of her sense of familial duty and her understanding that she's the one responsible for getting herself and Ma out of the factory system. Ma's willingness to buy Kim an autograph book suggests that she's becoming more comfortable with American customs of friendship.
Aunt Paula excuses Ma from work on the morning of Kim's graduation ceremony. Kim wishes she could make Ma proud as she watches Annette and Tyrone win all the academic awards. Mrs. LaGuardia stands to speak. Kim is barely listening as she announces that Tyrone got into Hunter College High School and Kimberly is being granted a full scholarship to Harrison Prep. Kim can't believe it. After the ceremony, Ma finds Kim and Kim translates the news. Mrs. LaGuardia approaches and compliments Ma on Kim, and Ma stutters her thanks in broken English, much to Kim's embarrassment. When Mrs. LaGuardia asks if Kim received her letter, Kim realizes that Aunt Paula must have the letter for them at the factory.
Kim's realization that Aunt Paula likely has her letter shows that as Kim moves forward with her education, Aunt Paula is going to have to be involved whether Kim and Ma want her to be or not. This is one of the more insidious ways that Aunt Paula seeks to gain and keep control over Ma and Kim, as it means that she technically has the power to dole out important mail as she sees fit—or keep mail from them altogether.
Annette finds Kim and hugs her, excited they'll both be going to Harrison. Mr. and Mrs. Avery introduce themselves to Ma and invite them out to lunch with them, but Ma refuses. She and Kim board the subway and head for the factory, where they have a great deal of work to catch up on. Strangely, Aunt Paula invites them to her office. Kim catches Matt's eye on the way and laughs when he rudely mimics Paula. In her office, Paula pulls out a letter from Harrison and asks why Ma didn't ask for advice when she let Kim apply to Harrison; she insists the school is too expensive and not even Nelson could get in. Kim admits the envelope contains her acceptance and scholarship letters, not an application.
Paula's behavior suggests that she wants to pit Nelson and Kim against each other academically, and that what she wants most of all is to shame Kim and Ma when Nelson does well. Even as Paula runs the factory, she absolutely values education and is aware that it could be Kim's ticket out of the factory system. In turn, this makes Paula's continued mistreatment of Ma and Kim at the factory seem even crueller, as she understands that more time at the factory means that Kim has less time for school.
Aunt Paula is furious that Kim and Ma applied behind her back, but she composes herself quickly. Ma insists that they're grateful for Paula's help, and Kim says that they can take care of themselves. Kim understands that Paula has revealed her true self in her anger—she doesn't have their best interests at heart, Kim is not supposed to do better than Nelson, and Paula would be happy to have them stay in their apartment and work in her factory their whole lives.
Kim stands up for herself (and for Ma) here in telling Paula that she and Ma can take care of themselves. This is notably not something that a respectful, quiet Chinese girl would do—this shows that Kim is becoming more American, especially as she becomes more educated (and also more aware of Paula’s mistreatment).
Annette sends Kim postcards from camp over the summer. Kim gives Annette her real address, as she doesn't want Aunt Paula to handle the postcards. Kim writes to Annette that she's getting to relax and read books, though she actually spends her summer sweating in the factory. She and Ma struggle to keep the roaches and rodents at bay and Ma plays her violin on Sunday evenings. Ma tells Kim that she plays so she doesn't forget who she is. Eventually, Ma buys them a fan, though it does little to cool them.
Kim is beginning to be more open with Annette about her life, though what she writes in the postcards suggests that she still believes it's very important to hide most of her crushing reality. The rodents and the heat again illustrate just how awful the apartment is.
One afternoon, Kim is shocked to hear someone ringing their doorbell. She looks outside to see Annette and immediately ducks down and waits for Annette to leave. A few days later, Annette sends Kim a letter saying that she came to Kim's house, and she asks for Kim's phone number.
Annette seemingly still believes that Kim is far better off than she actually is, in that she assumes Kim must have a phone. This is another symptom of Annette's relative privilege and wealth.
Ma buys Kim a boxy polyester blazer, a white shirt, and a dark blue skirt with rhinestones on it—it was the cheapest one. Kim feels uncomfortable and unrecognizable, especially since all of the clothes are too big. On the plus side, Kim is able to take a private bus to Harrison. The bus is an unexpected luxury and Kim tries to not stare at her white classmates, as well as one girl who's darker-skinned. Kim follows the mass of students and quickly finds her homeroom classroom. One boy teases her about the rhinestones on her skirt, and Kim vows to remove them as soon as she can. Kim is very glad to see that some of the other kids' blazers also have shoulder pads, like hers.
Kim's clothes make it very obvious to her that she's not like the other kids, as the way she describes her clothes pays special attention to the fact that they're recognizably cheap. This illustrates how Kim is technically able to fit in and pass as a Harrison Prep student, but even as she "passes" in terms of the dress code, her inability to look exactly like her peers still makes her feel self-conscious and alone in her world.
Kim spends her day attempting to stay away from the bullies. Her Social Studies teacher, Mr. Scoggins, tells them that they'll need to keep up with current events and stock prices, and Kim wonders how she'll follow stock prices without regular access to a newspaper. Kim is exhausted from trying to keep up with the English instruction by lunchtime, when she finally meets Annette. She's shocked when Annette gets in line with her for hot lunch; Annette explains that lunch is included with tuition.
Just as Mr. Bogart's assignments were predicated on an assumption of a certain level of wealth, Mr. Scoggins's assignments also assume that his students have access to what are, for Kim, luxuries. This suggests that even at such an academically focused school, Kim's poverty will still keep her from truly succeeding.
Happily, Kim is able to answer a challenge question in Life Science. When she does, her teacher says that she must be Kimberly Chang, without even looking at his roster. Kim learns that while she's not the only minority student, she's one of only a couple. Her last class of the day is gym, which she realizes is considered a serious subject. Ma had taught Kim to not do anything unladylike or dangerous, which includes most movement required in gym. Kim feels as though she's in trouble already, but when she's given her gym uniform and sent to the locker room to change, she knows she's in even deeper trouble.
The inclusion of gym as a serious subject highlights another difference between Kim's school life in Hong Kong and in America, as well as what's considered appropriate now that Kim is in the U.S. This offers another way in which Kim will be pushed into becoming less femininely Chinese as she immerses herself in the world of American school.