Adeline's life begins tragically. Adeline's mother died two weeks after her birth due to complications bought on by the delivery, and in Chinese culture she is considered bad luck. This situation is compounded by her father's new marriage to a lady who has little affection for her husband's five children. She displayed overt antagonism and distrust towards all of the children, particularly Adeline, while favoring her own younger son and daughter born soon after the marriage. The book outlines Adeline's struggle to find a place where she feels she belongs. Denied love from her parents, she finds some solace in relationships with her grandfather Ye Ye,and her Aunt Baba, but they are taken from her. Adeline immerses herself in striving for academic achievement in the hope of winning favour, but also for its own rewards as she finds great pleasure wrong in words and scholarly success. Adeline progresses through various situations in life, from boarding school to studies abroad.