Clarion Books, August 23, 1999
ages 8 and up, 96 pages
“Life in 17th-century Korea is not easy for a girl, even for the daughter of a wealthy family. Jade Blossom must learn to do the laundry, sew the clothes back together after each washing, help in the kitchen, and embroider flawlessly. Her world is circumscribed by the walls of the Inner Court where she will spend her life until she marries and then will be confined to the Inner Court of her husband's household. However, when her aunt and best friend since childhood gets married, Jade is determined to see her again. Park maintains a fine tension between the spirited girl's curiosity and her very limited sphere. Certainly Jade looks for opportunities to expand her horizons, but after her first disastrous foray to see Willow, she learns that those chances have to come within the walls of her own home. The story is full of lively action and vivid descriptions, enhanced by appealing black and white paintings, to give a clear sense of the period and reveal the world as Jade sees it. Even the minor characters have substance. The girl's parents are understanding but not indulgent. Her father is a thoughtful man, distant from the family, but looking at the possibilities for the future of his country. Her mother recognizes Jade's longings and shows her that it is possible to be content with her life. Like Jade's stand-up seesaw, Park's novel offers readers a brief but enticing glimpse at another time and place.” —School Library Journal
“In seventeenth-century Korea, a 12-year-old girl becomes aware of the complexities of class and gender differences in this historically enlightening story. Being of good family, Jade Blossom is forbidden to leave home until she marries. But curiosity leads Jade to secretly leave the Inner Court, a brief but eye-opening adventure that reveals heart-wrenching poverty, unexpected beauty, and the knowledge that her home's high walls offer both shelter and imprisonment. However, Jade discovers that creativity and imagination are powerful tools that can provide comfort and internal freedom. In descriptive, engaging prose, the story portrays the culture, traditions, and daily lives of the Korean aristocracy in a time of political and cultural change. Park sympathetically conveys the challenges and joys of becoming an adult, and offers perspective on the many meanings of "privileged." The lovely, delicate illustrations detail traditional clothing, architecture, and decorative arts for visualization and context. An author's note briefly explains Korean history and the lives of aristocratic women in the 1600s.” —Booklist
“In 17th-century Korea, the life of a noblewoman is extremely circumscribed: she leaves the inner court of her family home only to marry, or to attend a funeral. Jade, 12, is deeply attached to her older cousin Willow, and keenly feels the loss when Willow is married. She pesters her older brother Tiger Heart, however, to tell her tales of the market, the king's court, and the strange prisoners with red and gold hair; she longs to see the mountains she can barely glimpse above the family compound wall. The seesaw of the title, a Korean game, forms the climax of this quiet book and the key to Jade's seeing beyond her tightly enclosed world. The writing gracefully describes the extended structure of the family, the differences in how boys and girls of noble birth were educated, and the elaborate wedding ceremony. Park's afterword tells of a Dutch ship that ran aground in Korea near the time of the story, and what happened to the prisoners Jade's father defended. The evocative descriptions and Jade's intensity in creating new ways to learn will capture and hold readers.” —Kirkus Reviews
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