By Cindy Guo
Falling Leaves, an autobiography by Adeline Yen Mah, is definitely one of my favorite books that I’ve read in high school. The main character, Adeline, grew up in a port city not too far away from Shanghai during a period of political and cultural upheaval. Although she was from a more privileged family, she suffered from emotional abuse from her stepmother, father, and siblings. Falling Leaves was a tough read, but it gives readers more insight about Chinese culture and how an incredible woman turned her life around despite having a horrible childhood.
Although I cannot personally relate to parts of her story, I was able to empathize with her and could feel her pain. The autobiography is written with good structure–it’s easy to follow along, and what impresses me most is Adeline’s honesty and vulnerability. Falling Leaves is definitely a must read if you are of Asian descent, because it exposes the dark side of Asian culture.
I’ve read many reviews online where readers dislike the book because they feel that Adeline is being too whiny and that a spoiled child is taking her revenge. I’d like to defend Adeline, because her entire autobiography extremely genuine, and I admire her for being brave enough to share her story. Autobiographies are tough–if you don’t put yourself in the author’s shoes, you won’t be able to enjoy the story. So although as a reader it’s easy to criticize Adeline, it’s impossible to know how anyone would react in the moment. It is clear to an observer that Adeline should just stop going back to her family because they’re abusive, but it is very difficult for an outsider to really know what is going through the little child’s head, much less understand her desire for love and approval. Adeline tells readers everything she remembers, which is why “whiny” is the last word I would describe her as. If you grew up in her shoes, you would also be very emotional in writing an autobiography. It’s just that some events are so awful that you can’t relate to it.
Falling Leaves is an incredible and honest novel, and I do encourage everyone to explore her other autobiographies because it’s a great way to learn about different people’s stories. I think it’s really important to take the time to understand what’s going on in someone else’s life, and to take the lessons they’ve learned and apply it to your life. I highly recommend Falling Leaves, and I hope you read it with open mind.