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Donna Jo Napoli's well-written, elaborate retellings of classic stories have reinvented those fairy tales for new, more sophisticated audiences. With her new novel, BOUND, Napoli continues her tradition by placing the Cinderella story in a specific time and place: the seventeenth-century Ming Dynasty in northern China. By doing so, Napoli is able to combine actual history with fairy tale elements to create a rich and emotionally complex novel.

After Xing Xing's beloved father dies, she is left to the custody of his second wife, her cruel stepmother. Stepmother has just one goal: to help her only daughter Wei Ping marry well. Although Wei Ping is already fifteen years old, Stepmother decides to bind her feet, a process that was usually begun in early childhood. Stepmother is convinced that this horrific process, which her late husband frowned upon, will make Wei Ping more attractive to potential suitors. Instead, it gives the girl debilitating pain and a life-threatening infection.

While her stepsister heals, Xing Xing becomes the family servant, dressed in rags and only secretly practicing the "three perfections" --- painting, poetry, and calligraphy --- which her father had valued and helped cultivate in her. Xing Xing loves to learn, but adults in her society discourage it, saying that "lack of talent in a woman is a virtue." As Xing Xing attempts to practice her art and evade her evil Stepmother, she finds solace from an unexpected source --- a 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, Napoli also introduces historical details and themes about the value of women, which add depth to the tale. All the familiar elements are here: the cruel stepmother, the stepsister (who here is not really evil, just needy), the fancy dress, the lost shoe, and the prince. What may be surprising is why Xing Xing seeks to marry the prince --- rather than romance, prestige, or the love of fine things, Xing Xing seeks a royal marriage because it may be her only chance to grow into a strong, accomplished, and independent woman.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 2, 2004

by Donna Jo Napoli

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0689861753
  • ISBN-13: 9780689861758