Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
Summary from Goodreads:
YOUNG XING XING IS BOUND.
Bound to her late father's second wife and daughter. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where a woman is valued less than livestock. Bound to be alone, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.
But all of this is about to change as Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family's money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.
Bound is dubbed as a Chinese Cinderella retelling and I was afraid that putting a western story in an eastern setting has a higher probability of a not so quite convincing world. But Donna Jo Napoli pulled it off.
I love how Donna Jo Napoli made manifest the richness of Chinese Culture. The ancestor worship, reincarnation, alternative medicine/healing, family heirarchy, feet binding, calligraphy, festivals, the qi, the yin and the yang, folk tales of carps and dragons. It was a wonderful world to get lost in.
She made sure too that the story's Cinderella suffered considerably under the stepmother's hands. The usual back breaking chores of cleaning, fetching water, hunting, picking of hard unripe fruit, and some unusual ones like chasing after an alternative healer and convincing the man to come and heal her stepsister and to spread some made up story about her to attain infamy. The stepmother was a very effective loathesome villain. One second she's nasty the next she's being kind but underneath the kindness is still a nasty motive and an equally nasty end for Xing Xing. The stepsister though was hardly nasty or cruel. Just ignorant and subservient to her mother which doesn't make her any less of a villain.
I am not a morbid person but I did appreciate the weird and grim parts found in the story because it made the book stand apart from the usual squeaky clean Cinderella retellings. If you just ate, look away please. There's the accidental and deliberate chopping off of toes, murder of racoons and eating the animal form of ancestor spirits.
Xing Xing, our Cinderella, is a much stronger and determined than any of the other Cinderellas I've come across. She has to endure not only her stepmother and stepsister but has to fight the cultural limitations of her heritage. Of girls having to behave a as frail and delicate beings, of them remaining ignorant of everything, of having small feet by deliberately binding them to stunt growth, and just being plain inferior. All for the attainment of every Chinese girl's fate, snagging a husband. But Xing Xing is the exact opposite of all these. She is smart, creative, and strong which presents a problem for Xing Xing. But ultimately she pushed through and although she didn't exactly change her fate instead she worked around it and made sure that she get a say in who she marries and he better accepts her for who she is.
I only wished there could have had a story or any mention of what ever happened to the stepmother and the stepsister in the end. I also wanted a deeper development in the romance. It could have been attained by having more interaction between the prince and Xing Xing. Instead the prince just appeared in the end and they fell in love after a few brief exchanges.
Ella Enchanted still remains to be my favorite Cinderella retelling but I think this one's still pretty solid and I enjoyed it very much. I hear Donna Jo Napoli has a Beauty and The Beast retelling, Persian style. I will keep this author on my radar.
Bound is a recipient of the ff: American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL Best Books, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Best Books, KIRKUS Editor's Choice, BOOKLIST Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth, Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Master List (Vermont), South Carolina Junior Book Award List
This is my 20th entry for the Award Winning Books Reading Challenge hosted by Gathering Books.