Review: Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioka

Publication Date: January 1, 1999

In 1911, Chinese foot binding was a process that every girl had to go through if she was well-bred and of age to have her engagement arranged. Ailin is the youngest daughter in the Tao family, the next to have her feet bound.

But with the revolution starting and society changing, Ailin is beginning to fight back against the tradition of foot binding. Her independent personality and fiery heart push her to seek change in a culture that has followed history and tradition for so long.


Rating: 5 stars

This is the second book I'm reading for my World Lit class this semester, and I have a lot of feelings about this one.

Firstly, this was written by a Chinese author about Chinese culture, and that reminds me of home. I grew up in China for nine years, then moved to Hong Kong for seven years, so I'm very immersed in the culture and the life there. Reading through the book, I found it so easy to connect with the characters because I knew exactly what was going on and the culture was one that I'm so familiar with.

I really enjoyed the story and found that I could easily relate to Ailin on many levels. I won't go into detail because it would take too long and there would be a very long series of cultural explanations that you might not care to read about. But despite her young age when the book starts, I was still able to relate to her in terms of personality. As she grew older, I still found that I saw a lot of myself within her, especially as she learned to manage her fiery manner.

I wouldn't say that this is an especially plot-driven book, mostly because there's a condensed amount of conflict and intensity within this tiny 160 page book. It's not entirely character-driven either. I'd say that there's a good balance between the two, and that the author chose very carefully the kind of conflict she would introduce into the book, to make sure that everything had a purpose and was able to further the plot in the best way possible.

The fact that the author is Chinese-born made things especially interesting in terms of the plot and for myself, because I grew in China and found that I there were many things I remembered about the place and the culture, as well as the people. I was brought back to a place I called home for many years of my life, and it also brought me back to being in Hong Kong for the past seven years. While it definitely wasn't the author's intention to make me feel homesick, I think it really hit me that after being away for seven months, I really missed home and the people there. I missed the culture so much and reading this book gave me a slightly glimpse back into the place I think of when I think of the word "home."

For such a short book, the author really packs in a lot of things about the Chinese culture, as well as wraps the story up very effectively. You don't really have any questions at the end, except maybe to ask about a character or two. But since there's a sequel, I'm sure some of those questions will be answered.

I was very satisfied with the way the book ended, and since it felt so similar to many of the things that I've gone through, the ending brought me to tears for the homesickness that I felt so intensely at that point. I loved the way the book ended, and there's nothing more I could have asked for as I closed the book.

I found Ailin very relatable, though that might not be the case for everyone. I saw a lot of similarities between us and also was able to relate to many of the things she had gone through. I may not have had to go through attempted foot-binding, but I have experienced some of the way she was treated because of her personality and nature. I liked her character evolution, and I think that she was very well-developed by the time we came to the end of the book.

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5 stars. I would definitely recommend this as a short historical fiction read, and because it's a really easy YA. This talks about so much more than you would think for its size and page count, but it really packs a lot into itself.

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