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Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   If you want to read 300 pages worth of complaints andnothing else, pick up Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves: The True Story of anUnwanted Chinese Daughter. If you're looking for a lack of depth and style, youneed only turn to the first page. With the exception of a good title, there islittle else worth mentioning about this memoir.

In Falling Leaves theauthor recounts a painful childhood; she is the family's scapegoat, picked on byher siblings and abused by her parents. This is intended to be a Cinderella storywith a protagonist triumphing over hardships, with the author herself asCinderella. The hardship are the "evil stepmother" and overbearingsiblings. The setting is mid-20th century Shanghai, China. But the memoir? It isa complete disappointment.

For one thing, Cinderella is one of the oldeststories around. To be successful (and there are many successful ones), an authorneeds to rely on writing, since the plot is already cliché. Unfortunately,Mah's writing lacks every skill imaginable. Her self-pity obscures any meaningthis book might have. A touch of self-pity is reasonable, given the terribleconditions of her childhood, and would even help propel the story.

But itbecomes unbearable when Mah fills the pages with her misery: how she, after beinglost and frightened for hours, returns home to find herself not missed by herfamily; how her beloved pet duckling was used in an experiment that resulted inits death. She suffers immensely, but her writing leaves an unanswered question -"What did she learn from this?"

When our Cinderella leavesShanghai to escape her problems, she has nothing to show for her suffering, andthe memoir draws little connection between her hardships and how they made her abetter person. Already cumbersome with self-pity, the memoir is wanting inanalysis.

This lack of depth might be forgiven if not for Mah'sone-dimensional treatment of characters. Her portrayal of all characters ineither a good or bad light is frustrating. Her stepmother is always evil, hersiblings always bullying. Her aunt, on the other hand, is nothing but kind. Mostannoying is Mah's picture of herself: the young Adeline is nothing short ofangelic. The closest thing to a flaw is giving up her dream to please her father,but this can even be termed self-sacrifice, hardly a flaw.

Mah'sglorification of herself at the expense of others turns off the reader'ssympathy. When she recounts how her "evil stepmother" forced her andher siblings to beg for train fare, she writes how her siblings weakened andbegged, but she simply could not bring herself to do this. Throughout she paintsher siblings as weaklings (with the exception of her youngest sister) and herselfa hero.

If you're searching for triumph over hardship, you'll see that thehardship in Falling Leaves is exaggerated and the triumph glazed over. If you'researching for a thought-provoking memoir, you'll only find a biased, parochialaccount that leaves much to be desired. If you've nothing better to do with yourtime, try it. Otherwise, don't bother.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 28 comments. Post your own!

Anon said...
Dec. 30, 2013 at 2:36 am:
How could u even write that! She is an an amazing girl who had a hard life unlike ours where we complain over the tiniest things! I cried reading this book!!!!!!!!!
 
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Aurelie said...
Jan. 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm:
I agree with the flaws of Mah's story, but having read the book for the first time in 3rd grade, it quickly made one of my favorites. Perhaps instead of looking at it in this light, it should be remembered that teens were perhaps not her intended audience to begin with.
 
KatsKThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm :
I agree. It's an interesting story, and it is her autobiography, so she should portray it as she saw it. That being said, she is a bit too dramatic as her writing is supposed to be factual.
 
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hopi1464 said...
Dec. 11, 2011 at 8:25 pm:

You are completely right she is an amazing writer and this is a true story a completely sad story

 

 
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just said...
Nov. 5, 2011 at 2:31 am:
It's annoying how you can judge other's writing when you can not make a good one yourself. Please present me a best-selling book with your name on it before writing a review like this ever again.
 
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soifon123 said...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm:

In a way, I can understand why a person who has not gone through a similar experience, can denounce the hard work (and cathartic, cleansing experience of an exceptional and inspirational woman), as a boilerplate of complains. However, being a person who also lived through an extremely traumatic childhood, both physically and mentally (but mostly mentally), I do not think her memoir is something made is lambast others with bias. Asian parents, especially the quintessential dragonlady stepmothe... (more »)

 
soifon123 replied...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm :

I apologize ahead of time for my typos. I assure you guys that my writing is more organized that this. I was quite off by the essay above and the comments of a few in this post... My emotions got the better of me and I typed rather quickly in my attempt to defend a remarkable woman. While I dont believe everyone should be forced to fawn over her, I find it sad that one can discount her trauma as folly. I've watched many interviews involving Adeline, and I feel saddened that a woman who is man... (more »)

 
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Steve14 said...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm:
Here's a hint for ya: CAPITALIZE YOUR WORDS!
 
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Steve14 said...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm:
Oh yes Niang is such a bad person! she sent adeline to the finest boarding schools and made her live on the most prestigious of locations in china! But how could she force Adeline to eat the faty meat when there were kids starving in china? What horror! (all above is sarcasm for those of you who try and support Adeline Yen Mah!)The way i see it, is that Adeline is ungrateful and completely disregards every shed of kindness that was shown to her in this memoir! 
 
CanYouNot replied...
Apr. 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm :
Ungrateful for what? Being abused?
 
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Steve14 said...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm:
This book is terrible!
 
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HopefulWolf This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 9, 2011 at 9:14 am:
How dare you insult Adeline Yen Mah? She is an inspiration!!!!!!
 
Steve14 replied...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm :
No, she is an egocentric,subservient, push-over who doesnt know how to write a simple cinderella story.  
 
r0xy567 replied...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm :
You do realize this was a memoir, correct? That means it was a reflection of her past, real. She wasn't trying to write a good 'Cinderella Story'. It was simply a novel telling people about her past and what she went through.
 
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leora said...
Aug. 6, 2011 at 5:12 am:
I can not beleive you! i frown upon this ignorant and useless review. this book was great. it had a great amount of detail which allowed me to picture everything as it happened. this novel touched my heart in such a way, and you are saying it's junk. this is absured! you only dare to say such a thing because you have no idea of the pain and suffering she went through as a child both mentally and physically. plus, here's one little tip for ya; SPACE OUT YOUR WORDS!
 
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G92Norway said...
Apr. 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm:
I haven't read this book, but I've read "Chinese Cinderella", and as I have understood it, they contain much of the same content and are dealing with many of the same issues. Of course, I can't argue against your accusations since I haven't read the book. But I want to say something anyway since your view on the storyteller somehow got to me. I beleive we are in no position to judge how she presents the characters in the story - we have not experienced or seen what she has. Maybe she being the "... (more »)
 
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lily said...
Nov. 7, 2010 at 8:44 am:
I read  book five years ago. That's amazing! I've never read the book like that . I cried while I was reading it. It's so touchable! I've got a copy but I want to have an original ,but I can't find it anywhere. If someone can help me , please write.
 
leora replied...
Aug. 6, 2011 at 5:17 am :
i agree! i loved this book and chinese cinderella. i cried alot! it touched my heart
 
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DiamondsIntheGrass This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 8, 2010 at 8:59 pm:
i have not read this book, but i read the Chinese Cinderella.  i believe that that book was amazing.  It made me cry quite a few times.  did you read that book?  if you havent, you should try it.  what do you think about it?
 
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Kate said...
Jun. 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm:

While I didn't see it while I read it, you gave picked out the flaws in Yen Mah's book. Considering, however, English is her 2nd language, the way it is written should be over looked and only the most critical critics should use against her. You are also right about how she uses a lot of self pity, but seeing as this book was used for her to emotionally cleanse herself, this too is not a major flaw. It is a somewhat...deceiving factor when she  neglects to mention any redeeming qualities... (more »)

 
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