Monday, April 02, 2012

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and even though I could tell it would be a quick read and I found the cover very enticing, I just never picked it up until a few weeks ago

The story is a retelling of Cinderella, based in China. When I was very young, the story of "Chinese Cinderella" whose fairy godmother was a fish was my favorite version of the fairy tale. I also very much love new versions of fairy tales, especially when those versions completely dispense with all but the most necessary trappings of the original.

Bound does not disappoint on either level. It is a very short book, and I got through it completely in one sitting. I was completely immersed in Napoli's world from the beginning, and while I can't speak for it's historical accuracy, I did appreciate that it seemed thoroughly researched.

The main character, Xing Xing, is a girl who has been allowed much more freedom than other women of her culture. Her feet have not been bound, she has been taught to read and write calligraphy. But her sister, Wei Ping, is suffering through the foot binding tradition. As with traditional versions, Xing Xing's step mother (who is Wei Ping's mother) is a cruel woman, but the brilliance of Napoli's writing is that the stepmother is not purely evil. She is very complex for a character of this type in a young adult book.

The story is well written and quickly paced, and I very much enjoyed it. The only thing that I can say to it is that it is a book very firmly rooted in it's age group. I read young adult fiction often, it is probably one of my favorite genres in general. I find that most things labeled YA are done so only because they have a young protagonist, and that they still engage my mind at the same level as a book written for adults.

I don't mean it as an insult to say that Bound isn't that way, I think that probably works in it's favor for the age group it's intended for. I would encourage middle-school English teachers to pick it up and consider it for their classes. I think it is a very good book for teaching students some really great lessons, about history, culture, art, and storytelling. But for an adult reader, it can be a bit simplistic and it is a very light read.

Overall, I think if you have an interest in new ideas on old fairy tales, it's a must read just for it's storyline. But you only need to plan an afternoon to read it.