From the Publisher
"A dramatic and masterful retelling." School Library Journal, starred review
"An adventure and a coming-of-age story that will have readers racing to the finish." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Deliberate and satisfying." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Strong, unforgettable characters." Booklist, starred review
In this Cinderella story set in 14th-century China, "Napoli grants her heroine an independence that remains authentic to her time, and creates both an adventure and a coming-of-age story that will have readers racing to the finish," according to our Best Books citation. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2004: Xing Xing is the daughter of master potter Wu. With the death of her father, she lives with Stepmother and a half-sister, Wei Ping. Stepmother is hoping to arrange a marriage for Wei Ping, and has bound her feet in order to make her more desirable. The infection that develops means that Xing Xing must seek medical help from a traveling herbalist. In the process she leaves her village and is allowed to see more of the world than she had imagined. The story is filled with the tradition and culture of the early Chinese. The family lives in a cave and Xing Xing works to keep the household clean and well stocked with foods. She befriends a baby raccoon and a beautiful white fish. As she travels with the medical man, she learns about herbal medicines and uses her own ability to read and write to earn her way on a riverboat. Returning home, she helps to heal Wei Ping and finds a secret treasure that her mother had left for her. Taking her treasure and attending the cave festival, Xing Xing again sees the world for herself without family chaperones. The end of the story is the Chinese version of Cinderella, thought by many to be the earliest version of the popular fairy tale. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students. 2004, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 186p., $5.99.. Ages 12 to 15.
After Xing Xing's beloved father dies, she is left in the care of his second wife, her cruel stepmother. Stepmother's one goal is to help her only daughter, Wei Ping, marry well. Although Wei Ping is already of marriageable age, Stepmother decides to bind her feet, a process that was usually begun in early childhood, to make the girl more attractive to potential suitors. Instead, the girl develops only debilitating pain and a life-threatening infection. While her stepsister heals, Xing Xing becomes the family servant, dressed in rags and secretly practicing the "three perfections"painting, poetry, and calligraphywhich her father had valued and helped cultivate in her. As Xing Xing attempts to practice her art and evade her evil Stepmother, she finds solace from an unexpected sourcea giant fish who may be the spirit of her late mother. Napoli's story bears a general resemblance both to traditional Western Cinderella stories and to the much older Chinese Cinderella tales. By placing her story in a specific time and place (northern China during the Ming Dynasty), Napoli also introduces historical details and themes about the value of women that add depth to the tale. Sophisticated readers will enjoy reading this novel alongside other global versions of the Cinderella tale, including Yeh-Shen, a Chinese Cinderella retelling for younger audiences. 2004, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, Ages 10 to 14.
Napoli again illustrates her skill in recreating fairy tales in their original context as she did in Beast (Atheneum/S & S, 2000/VOYA October 2000). This novel tells the Cinderella story in a historical China setting, where women bind their feet to appear attractive. Xing Xing is the stepdaughter who waits on her stepmother and stepsister after her father dies. Her stepsister recently began binding her feet and can hardly walk or do anything because of the pain. Xing Xing believes her dead mother's spirit has come back to guide her own life in the form of a beautiful carp that swims in the river next to their home. After Xing Xing is sent to another village to find a medicine man who might give her something for her sister's feet, she gathers courage to break away from her oppressive stepmother. She then finds a note and beautiful garments and shoes from her mother hidden in the house and goes to the celebration in the square, where she meets a Prince. As unflinching as the Grimm brothers, Napoli clearly defines some of the horrors of the time. Xing Xing's stepmother cuts off some of the sister's toes after a raccoon bites them to even them out and make the feet even sexier in the hope of catching a husband. While readers might not pick the book up without some encouragement, Napoli's excellent writing will soon draw them into the story. This Cinderella story is unforgettable. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Atheneum/S & S, 192p., Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Napoli takes the elements of the traditional Chinese version of "Cinderella" and creates a powerful and moving story. Xing Xing is left to the mercy of her stepmother after the death of her father. Focusing on a good marriage for her own big-footed daughter, the woman binds the poor girl's feet even though she is past the usual age for this painful procedure. Xing Xing's only pleasure is her daily contact with a beautiful white carp in the pond where she draws water. To her, the fish seems to be the spirit of her mother helping her endure her difficult life. When the stepmother kills it, the girl is devastated, but she retrieves the bones from the garbage heap and, in the process of hiding them, discovers a green silk gown and gold slippers that belonged to her mother. Dressed in this rich garb, Xing Xing goes to the festival where she loses one slipper in her effort to escape detection. The slipper is eventually bought by an unconventional prince; when he finally finds its owner, Xing Xing considers her options and decides to marry him. Napoli retains the pattern of the traditional Chinese tale with only a few minor changes: she sets the story in the northern province of Shaanxi during the Ming dynasty rather than in a minority community in southern China. She fleshes out and enriches the story with well-rounded characters and with accurate information about a specific time and place in Chinese history; the result is a dramatic and masterful retelling.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A strong, finely crafted version of Cinderella based mostly on old Chinese tales but with a sprinkling of details from Grimm. Xing Xing lives in a cave with Stepmother and Stepsister during the Ming Dynasty. Stepmother leaves Xing Xing's feet alone, but binds Wei Ping's feet to attract suitors. Fetching water at the pond, Xing Xing meets a uniquely beautiful carp who (she comes to realize) embodies her late mother. A venture out into the world to sell unripe figs and seek a doctor for Wei Ping's infected feet emboldens Xing Xing. When Stepmother sneakily kills the carp, Xing Xing reaches her final point of mental independence. Recognizable Cinderella motifs like honoring parental spirits, Wei Ping's brutally chopped-off toes, and a cave-festival where a golden shoe gets left behind weave easily together with the fleshed-out solidity of Napoli's realism. There seem to be no good options for Xing Xing's future, since she's not only dowry-less but overeducated for a girl; however, the ending has spark, resonance, and a relievingly appealing prince. Deliberate and satisfying. (author's note) (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
Xing Xing squatted by the water, silent and unmoving. Her stillness was a prayer.
It was answered: The sun glinted red. Only an instant and it was over, but there could be no doubt; her eyes had not played tricks: A white fish with red fins and golden eyes zipped past and under a lotus leaf. She laughed in delight.
"Lazy One, bring the firewood," came the distant call.
In the past year "Lazy One" had practically become Xing Xing's household name. She imagined her father's wife holding one hand above her eyes against the sun that was so bright today, it had already burned off the morning fog. She imagined her frowning in impatience, then ducking back into the shadows of the cave. The girl picked up the armful of wood she'd gathered and rushed back along the path. Her hair was tied in two hanging knots that thumped on her shoulders as she ran. Hurry, they drummed, hurry hurry. The cold dirt licked at her feet. Hurry hurry.
But she was wrong. Stepmother had not gone inside. The woman shivered in the chill of spring, arms crossed over her chest. "Get inside, Lazy One." She yanked one of Xing Xing's hair knots as the girl raced past through the open door.
The air of the main cavern had changed already. While the roof was so thick that the temperature hardly varied from summer to winter, the quality of the air could change drastically. Right now it had grown clammy. Xing Xing knelt and fed tinder to the coals of the dying fire, then sticks, then the wood she'd just brought in. The door squeaked shut behind her. Stepmother didn't oil the hinges on purpose because the noise scared away demons. Xing Xing got to her feet and turned around to find Stepmother standing right there, her hands on her hips, her muscled arms cocked like wings.
"Wood doesn't grow from springs," said Stepmother.
Xing Xing knew this was Stepmother's way of asking why she'd come from the direction of the pond rather than the woods. She'd seen the beautiful pool fish twice now yesterday afternoon and again this morning. It was her secret. Stubbornness entered her. She looked in Stepmother's eyes without blinking.
"But water does." Stepmother hobbled over and picked up the water bucket and carrying pole. She hobbled back and put one in each of Xing Xing's hands. "Are you waiting for grass to grow under your feet?"
Xing Xing ran out the door again, leaving it open. She rushed through the buzz of the bees they kept in the hive on the side of their cave. Rush rush, buzz buzz.
"My daughter will wake soon," called Stepmother after her. "And hunger hurts."
Xing Xing returned to the pond, only too happily. She filled the bucket, then walked around the edge, looking. The thought of Stepmother's daughter waking and complaining of hunger quickened her pace.
It wasn't that her half sister would be truly hungry, not like the old beggar men who wandered the village, hands outstretched, and slept at night under the raised floor of the public pavilion. Rather, her half sister's stomach would simply have emptied of the meal she ate last night. But she felt so poorly these days that Xing Xing didn't want to allow even that small amount of extra discomfort. Besides, her complaints could result in a smack on the head for Xing Xing.
Xing Xing was practically running now.
The fish didn't show itself.
Well, of course not. Secrets could never be rushed. They had to come of their own accord, on their own schedule. That way, when they came, they offered themselves as a gift.
Xing Xing leaned over the water, extending her right cheek till she could feel the wetness that hovered in the air close to the pond's surface. "Later," she sang. Then she stood and turned in a circle, lifting her chin so both her cheeks could brush the dry air. This was her way of caressing the spirit of her mother so that she could feel close by. She balanced the bucket on one end of the pole and put the other end over her shoulder, then walked home without spilling a drop.
Copyright © 2004 by Donna Jo Napoli