by Donna Jo Napoli

Xing Xing lives with her mother and stepsister, and her relationship with both is... read more

Xing Xing lives with her mother and stepsister, and her relationship with both is complicated. She feels both love and pity for her stepsister, who is in great physical pain: Stepmother recently bound her feet, hoping her daughter will eventually make a match good enough to support them as a result. Xing Xing has yet to give up hoping her stepmother might love her, even as she resents her role as family caretaker and servant (although Stepmother also works hard). Xing Xing’s only source of solace is the great white fish that swims in the pond near the cave where they live. When her stepsister’s feet become infected and the girl grows ill, Stepmother sends Xing Xing in search of the itinerant doctor and his medicine. The fish follows Xing Xing on a journey that is harrowing at times. It is only after Xing Xing returns with a balm for her stepsister that she realizes the fish is her mother, who has returned from the dead to watch over her. But her joy in the revelation is short lived. In the desperation that came with her daughter’s illness, Stepmother grew unbalanced. (Or perhaps the crisis made it more difficult for her to hide her true nature: the complexities of the characters leave room for multiple interpretations of many elements in the story.) Stepmother commits an act of utmost treachery and cruelty that devastates Xing Xing. It also frees her of any sense of duty, and when she sees an opportunity to act on her own behalf, she does so without hesitation. Variants of Chinese Cinderella stories formed the basis for
Donna Jo Napoli’s beautifully told, intricate tale that is set during the Ming Dynasty in fourteenth century China. (Ages 12–16)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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