Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

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.




Join the Discussion


This article has 29 comments. Post your own!

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 »)

 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
celesti said...
Mar. 1, 2010 at 6:38 am:
How Can you say that!!
I wonder what would you have done if you were in her place. you would have ran away from house because you couldn't bare the torture and later you would have starve to death. She is my Idol. She is such a brave girl and now she showed the world that everyone is special and precious. I enjoyed the story. My whole school was reading this book and they not only like but they love this book including Adeline. So you are so wrong. Thank-x to all who likes Adeline an... (more »)
 
leora replied...
Aug. 6, 2011 at 5:23 am :
i agree with you. the person who made this review is a complete half-witt. adeline's story touched my heart in everyway possible!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Nasrin said...
Jan. 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm:
Alex,
You are so exactly spot on right. That is exactly how I felt reading this book. Further, Adeline has absolutely no self-awareness. For instance, she shows no understanding why her niece would resent her perpetuating the idea that boys are best by paying the full freight for the nephew to follow his bliss and study piano in any school he chose, while the niece's only option was to attend a school that would offer her a full scholarship. That sounds exactly like Adelaine'... (more »)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
anna said...
Oct. 20, 2009 at 10:46 pm:
you have no feelings for people in need.heartless. Adeline was a brave little girl and I am so glad she was triumphant!
 
leora replied...
Aug. 6, 2011 at 5:14 am :
i agree completely with your comment! this person has no heart!
 
soifon123 replied...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm :
True, it is extremely mean for someone to just cast aside the traumatic experiences and cleansign attempts of a great woman without fully getting the facts correct. Conjecture is great, but not when he is making up false, libelous claims on a real human being. 
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Lexi said...
Sept. 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm:
You are so MEAN!!! that book was great.
 
mark replied...
Oct. 22, 2011 at 9:52 am :
i completely agree with u. Cause this bool touched me gradually. I started to pity the people who are at the same position as her.  and u must be scrupilous to say that she didn't suffer at all.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback