Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chinese Cinderella: The true story of an unwanted daughter By Adeline Yen Mah

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. I'll call the main character Adeline, since the Chinese culture gives different names to its people depending on the situation. Adeline's mother dies two weeks after she was born, so the rest of the family considers her bad luck. Her father remarries, and her stepmother dislikes all of his children; she especially despises Adeline. Adeline is mistreated, ignored, and beaten. She spends most of her life away from the family home in boarding schools or orphanages. She is separated from her favorite aunt, has her only pet and friend killed, and feels like she has no positive qualities. At one point, while filling out a form to get her into school, Adeline's father realizes he has forgotten her name and birthday! Adeline doesn't even know her own birthday, since it was never celebrated or recognized during her entire life. Despite her dreadful family life, Adeline excels no matter which schools she attends. Her friends and teachers view her as a talented, intelligent, remarkable young woman, even though she feels she's worthless. Near the end of the book, Adeline's grandfather tells her to create her own destiny, so she does.

This story is more amazing when I remember that it's based on the life of a real girl. My students told me the book was sad, and it is, but I found myself feeling anger and disgust toward Adeline's parents. She did everything she could to receive their approval and love, but they wore her down to a feeling of hopelessness. Her stepmother was openly mean, and her father was uncaring and unsympathetic. In the end, her favorite aunt writes her the story of The Chinese Cinderella which gives her hope.

Lexile level from 960

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This book is a classic, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Anne ("with an e") is adopted from an orphanage by the Cuthberts; the adoption is a story by itself! Anne's personality is...kind, outspoken, respectful, and very imaginative, to name just a few adjectives. The plot relates her experiences with making new friends, going to school for the first time, attending church for the first time, and discovering the world surrounding Green Gables. Anne is in awe of the beauty found in the country, and she uses her imagination to enjoy it even more. She has a tendency, especially early in the book, to speak her mind, which also gets her in trouble. However, she often says what her mother, Marilla, is thinking but is too polite to speak out loud. Marilla has serious doubts as to whether they should have adopted Anne. Her father, Matthew, loves her from the beginning, and Anne is his little angel. Each chapter is a mini-story in Anne's life, and she grows to be a fine young woman. The plot has its days of joy and happiness and its days of anger and sorrow. Anne is a character you will not soon forget.

I found Anne's character very entertaining. One of the first things she did upon her arrival was tell the know-it-all neighbor that she was rude and mean, which horrified Marilla (although she agreed). The also informed Marilla that the pastor's sermons were boring, and he didn't really put his heart into his prayers. She discovered a lifelong best friend in Diana, and they were inseparable. Diana helped Anne learn to deal with people, and Anne helped Diana learn to use her imagination. She won over the friendship of her classmates despite odd habits. The story itself is a challenge to read, so it is not for timid readers. The vocabulary and sentence structure differ from today's novels. Along with that, Anne has a tendency to ramble on and on and on when she gets excited, so that may challenge the patience of readers. Imagine over a page of Anne talking! However, it's part of Anne's character, and I, like her father Matthew, loved her for it.

Lexile level from 970