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Monday, April 18, 2011

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Today is a two-fer.  I've got two reviews of two very different tales by Donna Jo Napoli. First up is Bound, a Chinese retelling of Cinderella, and later today will be Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale.
And in case you missed it, there's still a little time to enter the mega FTF Sneak Peek giveaway of 15 signed books by Donna Jo Napoli!
Now, on to the tales!

Donna Jo Napoli

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.

This was the first thing I read by Napoli, and though it started strong and had a great sense of place, in some respects it was a letdown.  Not  completely, and I would still recommend it, but...
I'll just get right into it.  I thought it had a very strong start.  The Cinderella aspects were clear and the sense of place was beautiful.  It was reinforced with the language, too, so that it didn't seem like a Western character and sensibilities dropped in an Eastern setting.  Everything matched and felt lovingly researched and crafted.  I really enjoyed that.  There was a beautiful gentleness to it all.  Xing Xing and her journey were enjoyable and rootforable.  It is a very different take on Cinderella than most of us are used to, but it hits the same notes and explores the well-known version in interesting ways.

SPOILER!!! For example, I loved the use that Napoli made of some of the darker elements of the tale that have been largely lost to Disney time.  The mutilation of the old tale -- where the Stepmother cuts off one daughters toes and the other's heels in an attempt to make the shoes fit -- is made use of in a genius way, really, tying it in with traditional foot-binding and the horror and desperation of the practice.  And then, to add in the element of Xing Xing's belief about her "fish-mother" and the end result of that storyline...It was a very smart use of both the traditional tale and the history and culture of the setting. !!!END SPOILER

I loved, too, that even in spite of the Cinderella-ness and the element I mentioned up there in the spoiler, the stepmother and sister, and any "wickedness" that would generally be attached to their names was really understandable.  The "wicked" stepmother isn't really wicked -- she's just human, and dealing with things in what she thinks is the best way.  They are human and relatable, even when they are doing repugnant things.

What knocked it back for me considerably in the end was the end, but it was so very rushed and almost cheesy with the prince, and I really wanted more development to the ending.  Almost felt like a brush-off.  It's a short book.  There was really no reason that it couldn't have gone on a bit longer and given me some reason to hope that Xing Xing is going to have some kind of a chance at Happily Ever whatnot.  It was abrupt, and it kept me from the satisfaction I was looking forward to, and because of that, I feel like any recommendation I give for this super quick read has to come with a large caveat...

Now, watch me read from the beginning of Bound, and listen as I butcher the Chinese main character's name...


  1. This sounds really good. I like how she worked in what you were talking about in the spoiler. I read a DJ Napolli book a looong time ago and I really like it. I think it was the one based on the pide piper, Breath or Breathe. I'm going to snoop around my library for more of her stuff. :)

  2. I will have to keep a look out for this one! You can only have the Cinderella story told so many times but I think the Chinese twist on this would be perfect. Great review!

  3. I love the Chinese twist on this version of Cinderella. While not my favorite book by Napoli, I do like this one for all the reasons you mentioned!

  4. This sounds like a very dark retelling of Cinderella...right up my alley.



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