Overcoming obstacles: A book review on Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t forget even after years of reading it? I read Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah when I was still pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. It was summer and I was on my way back to my hometown for the holidays. Because I was traveling by boat, I wanted to read a novel that I could finish before the ship would dock in the port of my city. So when I saw Chinese Cinderella on the shelves of the Fully Booked branch in Ayala, Cebu City, Philippines, I decided to buy it.


Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter is a moving, non-fictional account of the childhood of Adeline Yen Mah. She narrates her tale of growing up as an unloved daughter in 1940’s China. Eversince she was born, Adeline was considered as bad luck by her family because her mother dies giving birth to her. Life becomes even harder for Adeline and her siblings when her father remarries. Her stepmother treats her and her siblings like second-class citizens while showing favor to her biological children. Yet despite the hardships she experienced in her personal life, Adeline excelled in school. She was an exceptionally bright student but her academic accomplishments were not enough to compensate for her yearning to be loved and accepted by her family.

Honestly…I kept crying while I was reading this book


Chinese Cinderella is a moving story of a little girl who yearns to be loved and understood. As a reader, knowing that this is a true story had a profound impact on me. This was enhanced by the author’s style of showing instead of telling. To emphasize the abuse she experienced, Adeline highlights the most painful parts of her life to the reader. Nothing could have shown the lack of compassion that Adeline experienced when she introduced the readers to a pet duckling she once had name Precious Little Treasure (PLT for short). PLT was one of the ducklings that their family friend, the Huangs, gave to their family and it was the scrawniest duckling in the group. However, Adeline didn’t mind and she grew extremely attached to PLT. One night, during dinner, her father wanted to test the obedience of Jackie (Their family dog). He asks for a volunteer duckling and despite Adeline’s protest, PLT was chosen. Unable to do anything to save her pet, Adeline is forced to watch Jackie maul PLT. The duckling was heavily wounded from this encounter and Adeline watches PLT slowly succumb to his wounds as the night progresses. The chapter ends with Adeline grieving over her loss and the burial of PLT.


Another aspect that I like about the book is that it is written in first person, making it easier to empathize with Adeline. Reading the book made me feel that I was experiencing the same events that she went through instead of being a nosy intruder leafing through the pages of her diary.


Furthermore, the book is short. It only has 240 pages and I feel that you can finish reading it in one sitting. A few other factors that I like is that she uses simple words throughout the novel and the font size is reasonably large, making it comfortable to read.


Chinese Cinderella is a great book to read and what makes the book stand out for me is the message of her story. Adeline grew up emotionally, physically, and verbally abused. The hardships she encountered could have broken her spirit and embittered her towards life. However, this was not the case. Instead, she remained resilient and hopeful. In the later chapters of the book, Adeline joins an international playwriting contest. She wins the competition, bringing honor to Hongkong. It also leads her father to finally notice her and he finally grants her wish to study in England.

I became so invested with the story of Adeline that after reading the book, I started googling about her. It was heartwarming to see how she managed to transform her life. Despite experiencing heartbreaking neglect, she did not let this define her. Instead, she chose to move forward with life. After graduating from London Hospital Medical School, she becomes a doctor, establishes a successful medical practice in California, and becomes Chief of Anesthesia at West Anaheim Community Hospital. She also found love and is married with two children. Her first book “Falling Leaves” was published in 1997 and it became a best-seller that sold over a million copies worldwide. With the success of her novel, she stopped practicing medicine to focus on being a writer.


Overall, Chinese Cinderella was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and though it is a bit sad, I would highly recommend it. Reading it made me so emotional that I found myself crying in some of its chapters. Hahaha…I recall stopping to cry every once in a while when I read this book! I even remember being so happy that my bunk had curtains because my fellow passengers would not be able to see me crying my eyes out!


In addition to its moving story, I believe that the message the story imparts to the reader is what makes the novel truly shine. Chinese Cinderella is a tale about hope and resilience. It shares an inspiring message that your past does not define you. No matter how painful your past may be, you can make your life beautiful.


Quotable Quotes

“Please believe that one single positive dream is more important than a thousand negative realities.” – Chris Cleave in Little Bee

“I read because I have to. It drives everything else from my mind. It lets me escape to find other world.” – Chris Cleave in Little Bee

“But you can vanquish the demons only when you yourself are convinced of your own worth.” – Chris Cleave in Little Bee

“Transcend your abuse and transform it into a source of courage, creativity and compassion.” – Chris Cleave in Little Bee

“Though life has to be lived forward, it can only be understood backwards” – Chris Cleave in Little Bee

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