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Adeline Yen Mah opens her book with a dedication “to all unwanted children.” Chinese Cinderella is an autobiographical account of her childhood up to the age of fourteen and relates how she grew up in an unloving household, neglected by her father and bullied by her siblings who blamed her for the death of her mother. “Do your best in the face of hopelessness” Yen Mah urges her readers, and transform your traumas “into a source of courage, creativity and compassion.” Her book sends a powerful message to young people that they should never suffer in silence: fear can be overcome and stories must be shared.

Adeline’s story begins in Tianjin, China, in Autumn 1941. Even from a young age, Adeline achieved highly at school and by topping her class each week she hoped she might prove her worth and bring honour to her family. Despite her continual efforts, however, she remained an outcast, shown kindness only by her Aunt Baba and Ye Ye (Grandfather) who were themselves estranged from the family by Adeline’s stepmother.

In Chinese Cinderella, Yen Mah succeeds in enraging her readers with the “unspeakable” things that made her feel worthless. She also succeeds in her project to “interest you with her history and culture.” The narrative abounds with fascinating insights into longstanding Chinese traditions, such as the burning of paper objects during Adeline’s grandmother’s funeral: it was believed that these objects would accompany her to the “next world.”

Adeline’s determination is incredibly uplifting and should encourage conversations among readers about the meaning family, acceptance and individuality.

Written by Adeline Yen Mah. 
Lydia Mihailovic, literary editor
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