Jean Kwok

Mambo In Chinatown

Now Available


From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works— miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. When Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds— eastern and western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Girl in Translation


Foreign rights have been
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Girl in Translation

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, Girl in Translation is an inspiring debut about a young immigrant in America, a smart girl who, living a double life between school and sweatshop, understands that her family’s future is in her hands.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life—the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition—Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself, back and forth, between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and a world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant—a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.


  • Hannah Judy Gretz Fellow 2015, Ragdale Foundation
  • Real Simple’s Best Books of 2014
  • Woman’s Day’s Best Books of 2014
  • American Library Association Outstanding Book for the College Bound (2014)
  • Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award shortlist (2012)
  • Hunter College High School Distinguished Graduate Award (2012)
  • TAYSHAS High School Reading List (2012)
  • American Library Association Alex Award (2011)
  • Orange New Writers title (2011)
  • John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist (2011)
  • Costco Book Pick (2011)
  • Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year, Adult and High School (2011)
  • Florida Teens Read (2011)
  • Salt Lake County Library Reader’s Choice Award (2011)
  • County-City Library Pick (2011)
  • Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award (2010)
  • National Blue Ribbon Book (2010)
  • Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick (2010)
  • Indie Next Pick (2010)
  • China Daily’s Top 10 Books of 2010
  • School Library Journal’s List of Best Adult Books 4 Teens (2010)
  • The Guardian’s Choice of First Novels (2010)
  • Women & Home’s Top 30 Books of 2010
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2010)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Author (2010)
  • Book Bloggers Appreciation Week Best Cultural Book (2010)
  •’s Best of 2010 Pick
  • Flavorwire’s Ten Women Authors We Love (2010)
  • Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award nominee (2010)
  • Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholarship
  • Columbia University Graduate Writing Division Fellowships
  • Harvard Club of New York Scholar
  • John Harvard Scholarship for Academic Achievement of the Highest Distinction
  • Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Scholarship for Academic Achievement of the Highest Distinction