Cinderella by Grimm Brothers and Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Photo: Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D

4 of 5
Who Can Resist a Happy Ending?

Then: Cinderella
By the Brothers Grimm
224 pages; HarperCollins

While we're supposed to know better than to fall for Cinderella stories about poor girls who make good, triumph over their evil relatives, and get the guy, sometimes—face it—we just can't help ourselves.

Now: Girl in Translation
By Jean Kwok
304 pages; Riverhead

Part fairy tale, part autobiography, Jean Kwok's novel Girl in Translation introduces Kimberly Chang, an 11-year-old Chinese girl who has emigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn with her single mother. While the Changs live in squalor in an unheated, cockroach-infested apartment and work in a sweatshop owned by an undermining aunt who pretends to be their protector, Kimberly grows into something of a prodigy. Though her English is charmingly butchered (in her first week at an American school she asks a teacher for a "rubber" when she means an "eraser") and her worldview limited (she computes how much something costs "in skirts," meaning how many garments she'll have to sew to make that amount of money), she wows her teachers, gets an unheard-of full scholarship to a prep school, lands a handsome boyfriend, and, finally, a free ride to "Yeah-loo" (i.e., Yale). A stock story? Absolutely. But what puts this debut novel toward the top of the pile is its buoyant voice and its slightly subversive ending that suggests "happily ever after" may have more to do with love of self and of family than with any old Prince Charming. — Sara Nelson
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