Arminzerella's Reviews > Ties That Bind, Ties That Break

Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioka
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Mar 03, 2010

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bookshelves: young-adult-fiction, historical-fiction, china, chinese, footbinding, gutsy-girls, families, borrowed-from-the-library
Read in January, 2010

** spoiler alert ** When Ailin is just six years old, her mother and grandmother attempt to start the process of binding her feet. Ailin refuses to cooperate and her father comes to her defense – things are beginning to change in China, perhaps they will be different for Ailin. Not all people are as forward-thinking, however. Ailin’s in laws-to-be back out of the marriage arrangement when they learn what Ailin has done. Without a husband, Ailin’s future is unsure, and her father decides to send her to public school. Ailin loves school and learns to speak English flawlessly. Later, when her father passes away (tuberculosis), she is able to get a job looking after the children of some Christian missionaries. They take her with them when they return to the States, and Ailin falls in love with a young man there and decides to stay.

Ties that Bind, Ties that Break looks at a turning point in Chinese history (it’s 1911 when we meet Ailin) – as it opened up more to foreign ideas and influences. Ailin’s rebellion was likely unusual for a Chinese girl from a good family – there was a lot of pressure for girls to conform to cultural expectations (i.e. foot-binding, arranged marriages, their mothers’ wishes). Although her parents and grandparents loved her, Ailin’s uncle – who eventually became the head of the family – was not sympathetic to her cause (didn’t believe educating girls was worth the time or money). Ailin found herself breaking with tradition again and again in order to have a life of her own, instead of the one her uncle wanted for her. She was a strong character, and I admired her courage. Because this is short, it may also attract reluctant readers.

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