WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yeh Mah
Type: Biography, Child Abuse, China
Basic Plot: Adeline Yeh has grown up abused by her siblings and stepmother for being the “unlucky” child in the family. Though hope is dim, she endures through despair until she can fully see it.
Plot 4/5 Well Done: Though it’s hard to judge a book based on real events such as a biography, as I believe delivery is more important than content, I can still say that the story of this book was both heart wrenching and gripping. Though a child’s book, young and old will feel the human pain of Adeline in her childhood. In it is nothing to bore or make the story lacking.
Writing Style and Setup: 4/5 Well Done: The style was simple and direct but used a descriptive vocabulary. Most of the grammar was correct, though there were a few things that were not technically right.
The story started and ended well and had a good pace. Since the story is directed at children with little to no hope, it makes sense that it is set only in her childhood. The story moved smoothly, not dwelling to long in one place or briefly jumping over another.
Moral: 4/5 A Very Good Moral: The most important moral in Chinese Cinderella is the overcoming of despair in Adeline’s life. Adeline believes and is often told she is a failure, but she still tries her hardest to be the best she can be. She is academically very successful and is very intelligent, despite her family’s abuse. She also is encouraged by her a few people to keep trying her best. Hope of change was what kept her doing her best. Children and adults should remember to hope for change as long as they are alive. Sadly, Adeline mentions God rarely, occasionally and briefly hinting that she even doubts his love and existence because of her cruel life. This is never stated directly, though.
Overall: 4/5 Well Done: As a whole, I think children twelve and older will find the story fascinating. It is written well and is interesting for children. Even if you are an adult, you will no doubt be feel and empathize with the pain Adeline goes through, though we may not understand it. I believe both boys and girls will be interested in it.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 1½/5 Mention of Mature Things: Adeline mentions that her breasts are growing and that she uses underwear as a substitute for a bra. It is mentioned that a girl and her mother wear “padded bras.” Some boys are joked to have had “taken the vow of chastity and abstinence” when they hadn’t. It is mentioned that two men have another lover besides their wife, and that one man’s lover was a bar girl. In her family photographs, one girl’s shorts are over her knee by a few inches. Boys are mentioned to have whistled at girls. A girl briefly jokes about going out in clothes she thinks are “skimpy.” “Naked” is used for descriptive purposes.
Violence: 1½/5 Some Non-Descriptive Violence: Adeline is slapped by female adults and children in her family. A boy pull her hair, hit her twice on the head, and twist her arm. A dog bites her wrist. A toddler pushes away a woman, and the woman reacts by repeatedly and angrily slapping the child. The fight results in a woman’s necklace breaking. It is mentioned that a soldier kicked and smacked a boy and that people are afraid they will be “punished or… killed” by the soldiers if they do not bow to them. A boy once says his brother beats him up. A duck is attacked by a dog. A man whips his children twice with a dog whip. A boy accidentally hits a man on the head with candy from a slingshot. A ball hits a girl on the head, and it hurts. A boy tries to drop books on an old man’s head but fails. A boy pulls out a man’s nose hair. Adeline tells a friend she does not like dogs because “[t]hey bite.” A man and his grandchildren do a martial art, and kung fu is mentioned twice to be in stories. There are descriptions that use violence.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: ½/5 Brief Mention: “Gee” is said once.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2½/5 Intense and Emotional Content: The story revolves around the emotional, physical, and verbal abuse and sometimes neglect from both adults and children. One of the most traumatic events was when she was tricked in to drinking urine. She is also bullied verbally by one girl. It is mentioned that her mother died from a fever shortly after Adeline’s birth, and that Adeline is hated and accused of causing her death. She is told by her brother that her grandmother will come back to life at midnight. Two people die, and funerals are held for them. One of them dies from a stroke and is said to have been “frothing at the mouth.” It is mentioned that a man was selling a child. The bombings of Pearl Harbor and Japan are mentioned. Twice a boy threatens to beat up a grown man, though he doesn’t. A woman has bound feet, and seeing them is described “like watching a horror movie.” A woman describes both the process and pain of foot binding, describing it as “torture.” A woman mentions “getting a headache.” A girl is once mentioned to have arm trouble from an accident when she was born. Children don’t want to eat duck because they have ducks for pets. Adeline gets pneumonia and has to go to the hospital. People throw up from stress and sickness; cry from abuse and from people dying; and scream words at each other. It is mentioned that babies are “left to die” in the streets and that children are starving. Revolutions and various wars are mentioned, and the war filled history of China is told, though not in gory detail. The newspaper is read out loud, and it mentions war, mobs, casualties, and riots. Blood is mentioned at least twice times, sometimes from people or an animal. A duck’s dead body is described in detail, though it is not much more than a broken, bleeding leg. Adeline wonders if any injuries show on her face, though whether she actually has any or not is not said. “Deathly,” “ghost town,” “grave,” “leper,” “scarred,” “tombs,” and “war,” used for descriptive purposes. A boy tells a girl to “[d]rop dead.”
Religious Issues: 2/5 Rituals and Brief Mentions of Other Religions: Throughout the book, Adeline goes to Catholic convent schools run by nuns that are called “mother” and “sister.” The Franciscan Catholics, mass, Catholic statues, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, catechisms, nun’s habits, incense, and rosaries are all briefly mentioned, usually only once. Children call their parents bedroom “the Holy of Holies.” A woman has a Buddhist funeral, and certain rituals such as burning belongings; mourning for a hundred days; and hiring monks to pray, chant, and sing are mentioned. Other less religious rituals are also mentioned. A man later has a Buddhist funeral as well, but no rituals are mentioned. Both funerals mention the use of Buddhist temples. Because some boys are bald, they are teased to be Buddhist monks and to have taken Buddhist vows, and one boy says it is “a Buddhist Monk Special.” It is mentioned that streets “were named after… Catholic saints.” A quote by Mother Teresa is mentioned. Adeline says the girls are “expected to worship” certain girls at school, though not literally. Different martial arts, such as Tai Chai and Kung Fu, are briefly mentioned. A woman is described as looking like a sphinx. “Demon” is used for descriptive purposes.
Magic: 1/5 Brief Mention: “Magic” is used for descriptive purposes and is in a book title. “Magical” and “fairyland” are used for descriptive purposes. A woman says that report cards and stories are “magic charm[s]” and “talismans.”
Others: A man says they should drink champagne to celebrate, though it is never said whether they drink any or not. A man that shows up once is a chain smoker and smokes in a classroom. A different man is once mentioned to be “smoking a cigarette.” A man and woman are mentioned to be “separated.” It is mentioned that a boy is teased and asked if he will grow his hair out into a pigtail, though he doesn’t. The Opium War is mentioned. A woman keeps a snuffbox as a keepsake of her father. American actors and actresses from the ‘50s are mentioned by name. One picture has a girl that may be wearing shorts. “Drunk” and “gamble” are used for descriptive purposes.
Overall: 2/5 Child Appropriate: The story may be intense for children under twelve, but I think that after that most would be able to handle it. Some of the religious terms and rituals may upset Christian parents as well.
IMPORTANT: Though the book Chinese Cinderella is recommended, this in no way means that the book Falling Leaves (a complete biography by the same author) is recommended. The content of the book is much more mature, being more graphic and using adult four-letter language.