When 11-year-old Kimberly Chang and her mother move to New York City from Hong Kong, they are prepared for hard work and a difficult adjustment to a new life. But they are not prepared for just how difficult it proves to be.
Their apartment, generously brokered for them by Kimberly's aunt, is in a building that seems condemned--empty of other tenants, without heat, plagued by broken windows and vermin infestations of every sort. To afford this apartment and repay Kimberly's aunt, who paid for their emigration expenses, they must both spend every spare moment working in a garment factory in Chinatown. Driven by the urgent need to liberate herself and her mother from these circumstances, Kimberly excels in school and doggedly pursues her goals, despite the distractions of her factory job, the temptations of the privileged lifestyles of her classmates at the private school where she has a scholarship, and the siren song of first love.
Kimberly's hardships are myriad and her drive admirable, but it is only a surface account, and the reader glides quickly and easily over it, without having much cause to pause or ponder. The most interesting aspect of the story--the aunt's grudging help, designed to keep her sister and niece in her debt--is never fully explored. Ultimately, Kwok's writing is readable and her tale engrossing, but neither the writing nor the characters manage to be truly memorable.