Novel by Adeline Yen Mah
Year eight English.
Chapter 1: Top of the Class
Autumn 1941. Four-year-old Adeline is intelligent and smart, receiving an award from her kindergarten teacher (Mother Agnes) on the first week of school. Her Aunt Baba treasures Adeline’s award by placing it in her special safe-deposit box. Adeline is close to her Aunt Baba, asking her about her deceased mother. Aunt Baba isn’t willing to share what she knows but Adeline learns that her mother died from a fever two weeks after she was born.
Chapter 2: A Tianjin Family
The whole family (seven children, her Father and Niang, her Grandfather Ye Ye, Grandmother Nai Nai and Aunt Baba (older sister of her Father) lived in a big house in the French Concession of Tianjin (city port on the north-east coast of china)
Chapter 3: Nai Nai’s Bound Feet
Adeline is mystified at her Grandmother Nai Nai and her bound feet. Adeline learns that having your feet bound wasn’t good and luckily, the custom had changed and small feet were no longer considered an important part of being feminine and beautiful. Adeline gladly shares the news of her achievement, but her siblings aren’t happy and are probably jealous of her, thinking it’s not possible. Because of the medal, her father singles her out, which had never happened before. Whatever someone in the family doesn’t want to do, they force it on Adeline to do it in the end.
Chapter 4: Life in Tianjin
Winter, early 1942. When Adeline started kindergarten at St Joseph’s French Convent School, her Big Sister was already in fifth grade. Complaining about having to walk Adeline to and from school, Grandmother Nai Nai finally told Ah Mao, the rickshaw-puller, to take them to and from school. Adeline loved everything about school. It was a place where they were all equals and a place where unlike her own siblings, nobody looked down on her. Finally, she felt like belonged. A year after Father, Niang and Fourth Brother had been gone, there was a heatwave on. Nai Nai decided to soak her feet, but unfortunately, she died of a massive stroke. A grand funeral was held for her.
Chapter 5: Arrival in Shanghai
Adeline, Big Sister and Big Brother are taken to the railroad station to meet their father. Together, the four went to the house in Shanghai. Father, Niang and Fourth Brother had been living there for one and a half years. The children are told that they are to live on the second floor (three brothers in one room, Adeline and Aunt Baba in another and Ye Ye and Big Sister in separate rooms.) The others, Father, Niang and their stepsiblings would live on the first floor in individual rooms showing prejudice against the children, Aunt Baba and Ye Ye.
Chapter 6: First Day At School
At Shanghai, Adeline starts first grade at a new school called Sacred Heart, her Big Sister goes to Aurora Middle School and her brothers goes to St John’s Academy. After school, Adeline is forgotten about so she tries to find her way home by herself. Of course, she doesn’t know where she lives, so she gets lost. Luckily a lady from a restaurant spots her and Adeline calls her father to pick her up. Her father tells Adeline that in future she needs to use a map.
Chapter 7: Family Reunion
Last Sunday of October. Ye Ye, Aunt Baba, Third Brother and Little Sister arrive at Shanghai. Little Sister hadn’t seen her mother for one and a half years so she doesn’t remember her. When Little Sister threw a tantrum and wouldn’t go to her mother, Niang started beating her deliberately and viciously. Adeline finally speaks out (to stop beating her) when none of the other adults did so. After that, the children realized that because Nai Nai was dead, Niang was now the one in charge.
Chapter 8: Tram Fare
The children’s schools were a fair distance away and the number 8 tram ran directly from door to door. But the children were being taught an austerity programme to teach them about the ‘value of money’, so they weren’t given any pocket money, meaning that they couldn’t take the tram to and from school. When Ye Ye first arrived in Shanghai, he gave them tram fare to go to school, but two months later, all his money was spent. The subject was brought up but Niang and Father found out that the money had been spent on tram fares. The children were told to apologize before being allowed to receive tram fares from their parents. Although they promised each other they wouldn’t give in, Big Sister held out for ten days and her three brothers held out for another week before giving in. Adeline wouldn’t and didn’t give in.
Chapter 9: Chinese New Year
Second Grade – Seven years old. Niang and Father gave Adeline and her siblings’ traditional clothing (‘unpopular’) whilst Niang’s children received stylish Western outfits (‘popular’). The children feel it’s unfair and plan to plot against Niang. Unfortunately, Niang overhears their entire conversation so by getting back at them, she recruits their leader, Big Sister, over to ‘their’ side and moving into a spare bedroom on the first floor. Although Adeline is a ‘Genius’ in her class, she wants her classmates to like her and her parents to love her. Adeline is depressed and lonely.
Chapter 10: Shanghai School Days
Adeline befriends the most athletic girl in Sheng Xin School (Sacred Heart), Wu Chun-mei. August 1945, almost eight years old. America dropped the atom bomb on Japan. This ended the Second World War. Spring term, 1946, eight and a half years old. Father took Niang, Big Sister, Fourth Brother and Little Sister north to reclaim his Tianjin properties. They stayed away for three months. The remaining family had freedom once again and did as they wished.
Chapter 11: PLT
Mr and Mrs Huang came to visit not long after Father and Niang returned from Tianjin, bringing gifts (seven baby ducklings). Obviously, Fourth Brother picked first, followed by Little Sister, Big Sister, Big Brother, and so on. Adeline named her duckling Precious Little Treasure (PLT). PLT becomes her first pet and a real friend. PLT dies when Father decides to test Jackie’s obedience by seeing if Jackie will harm the duckling.
Chapter 12: Big Sister’s Wedding
Chinese New Year holidays, 1948. Father and Niang, and sometimes along with Big Sister continued to travel to Tianjin. It turned out that Niang had decided to marry off Big Sister (17) to Samuel (31), Nai Nai’s doctor’s son.
Chapter 13: A Birthday Party
September 1948, after summer holidays. Wu Chun-mei persuades Adeline to go to her birthday party. Niang finds out about the party and Adeline is whipped.
Chapter 14: Class President
Adeline is voted as Class President. The girls in her class decide to follow her home as a surprise, but instead, a very ugly surprise awaits them. They see Adeline’s true family.
Chapter 15: Boarding School In Tianjin
Adeline is sent to St Joseph’s boarding school. Middle of November 1948, Nancy Chen left Tianjin with her mother. By the middle of December, Adeline was the only student left. Adeline’s Aunt Reine Schilling (Niang’s older sister), came to take Adeline away after New Year, 1949. Aunt Baba had stayed in Shanghai whilst Father, Niang, Ye Ye, Fourth Brother and Little Sister.
Chapter 16: Hong Kong
Uncle Jean, Aunt Reine, Victor and Claudine (cousins of Adeline) and Adeline took a boat to sail to Hong Kong. On the boat, Adeline was treated equally, like a family that she belonged to. On arrival to the new house in Hong Kong, Adeline’s parents completely ignore her. Ye Ye shows Adeline the way Chinese characters are formed and immediately, it interestes Adeline in learning Chinese again. Victor decides not to go on a Sunday outing to keep Adeline company. In return, Adeline gives him her ‘Paper Magic’ book.
Chapter 17: Boarding School in Hong Kong
The Schillings left Hong Kong for Geneva on Thursday morning. Two days later, an hour after lunch on Saturday afternoon, Adeline is taken to Sacred Heart, a boarding school.
Chapter 18: Miserable Sunday
Two years later. Summer, 1951. Adeline’s number (37) is called out to be given an egg. But after 730 eggless days, Adeline is suspicious of the sudden egg. In the bathroom, Adeline overhears that some of her classmates are sorry for her.
Chapter 19: End of Term
Each of the girls are going home but only Adeline stayed behind for the summer holidays.
Chapter 20: Pneumonia
Adeline’s headache further develops into Pneumonia. After she is discharged from hospital, her Father takes her home. Upon arrival, she learns that Third Brother has also arrived at Hong Kong. Big Brother and Second Brother left over a year ago to go to university in England. Big Sister moved back to Tianjin with her husband and their baby daughter. Adeline is afraid her parents will force her into an arranged marriage after she finishes school and she won’t be able to go to England.
Chapter 21: Play – writing Competition
After a week staying at home, Adeline went back to school, although it was still holidays. Upon reading in the library, Adeline finds a magazine with an announcement of a play-writing competition. Chinese New Year, 1952. No contact came from home and although it had been after six months, there was no news of the play. March, 1952. Adeline’s Grandfather Dies. One Saturday, Adeline is called home because her father has found out that she entered the International Play-writing competition and that she had won first prize. Therefore, her father agrees to allow her to go to a university in England to study obstetrics at medical school.
Chapter 22: Letter From Aunt Baba
22 September, 1952. Aunt Baba writes Adeline a letter to say congratulations on going to Oxford, England with Third Brother and that she was living in Shanghai on Avenue Joffre with Miss Chien and two maids. Aunt Baba also retells the story of Chinese Cinderella. In a way, both Ye Xian and Cinderella are like Adeline: children who are mourning for their dead mothers. Aunt Baba also congratulates her on winning the prestigious international play-writing competition.