First piece of advice: don't give up on this book because the prologue doesn't draw you in. I almost did. The prologue is uninspiring enough that I almost put the book down one page in. (Or maybe I'm just horribly impatient.) I got sucked right into the story once it got going for real.
Stupid 3M didn't save my bookmarks, so I can't give you specific examples of what I loved so much about Kwok's immigrant-girl-overcomes-adversity story. Our protagonist, known in the US as Kimberly Chang, was a superstar student in Hong Kong, but struggles in the US at first, primarily because her English skills aren't so hot. Racism and poverty don't help either, but once her English improves Kimberly resumes her role at the head of the class, despite working long hours in a sweatshop, living in squalor, and having to navigate the world for both her and her non-English-speaking mother.
Then again Kim's relationship with her mother is an essential part of her character, and I admire them both for how they help each other, no question. It's just who they are.