Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah
New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1999
Audience:  Grades 5-10
This autobiography tells the story of Yen Mah, a young girl living in China during World War II. Shortly after she is born, Yen Mah’s mother dies from labor complications. Her family immediately views her as “cursed” or “unlucky,” and her siblings blame her for her mother’s death for most of her childhood. To make matters worse, her father remarries a cruel woman, Niang, who neglects Adeline and her four siblings in favor of her own children. When the family moves to Shanghai during the war, Yen Mah and her siblings are hardly fed and treated like servants.
Struggling with her family’s disgust, Yen Mah finds some comfort in her grandfather, Ye Ye, and her unmarried Aunt Baba. She also finds solace in school, where she excels academically, especially with writing and studying literature. At the age of fourteen, Yen wins a play-writing competition and convinces her father to allow her to travel to England to study. Despite the abuse she experienced in her childhood and her father’s neglect, Adeline goes on to become a successful doctor and writer.
Adeline Yen Mah, 2004
This tragic and heart-wrenching story about perseverance and overcoming hardship will appeal to tweens, especially girls. Although Adeline Yen Mah describes the tale as a “Cinderella story,” there is no Prince Charming who rescues Adeline from her fate. Using her own skills, intelligence and personal strength, Yen Mah evades her “evil stepmother” and realizes her dreams. Tweens will find this story inspiring, though, at times, difficult to read. One portion in particular might be too intense for younger readers. One of Adeline’s relatives gives her and her siblings ducklings as a present, and Adeline decides to keep her’s as a pet. Naming her duckling “Precious Little Treasure,” she cares for her pet, lovingly finding her food and training her. The family’s ferocious dog, however, gets hold of Precious Little Treasure and the duckling does not survive. Young tweens might have trouble reading about this, particularly since one of Yen Mah’s siblings selects Precious Little Treasure to act as bait for training the dog. This and other acts of cruelty Yen Mah experiences should be discussed with a teacher or parent following reading the novel.

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