THE CRYSTAL RIBBON, by Celeste Lim, Scholastic, Jan.31, 2017, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 8 and up)
Books about or set in other cultures never cease to intrigue me, and The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim is not different.
The Crystal Ribbon takes place in medieval China. Twelve-year-old Li Jing lives in the village of Huanan with her family. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and the family must make sacrifices to survive. One of those sacrifices is marrying off Jing. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family as a wife and nursemaid to Ju’nan, her 3-year-old husband.
Jing doesn’t know if this arrangement until after she’s married. It’s only then that she realizes she ranks lower than the house servants. Still, Jing works hard and earns the love of Jun’an. Fate has other plans for Jing, though, and after rough treatment by the family, she is sold yet again to a Chinglou (a house of courtesans).
Jing can’t believe her family ever meant for to end up a courtesan and decides the only thing to do is run away. With the help of a spider and a nightingale, Jing discovers who she is meant to be.
The Crystal Ribbon would be very hard to read if not for the magical elements author Celeste Lim has weaved throughout. The harsh realities of a poor girl living in 1100s China are hard to swallow. Instead, there’s a sense of wonder and justice throughout that lightens the load.
Lim’s prose is elegant and accessible. She deftly includes definitions of Chinese words that help give context as well as an air of authenticity.
More than once while reading The Crystal Ribbon I questioned the suggested age range. Even though Jing is 12, the book read older. This was not just because of the language, but the situations in which Jing finds herself. Most 8-year-olds are not going to understand what a concubine is, and this could lead to some confusion and difficult conversations parents aren’t quite ready for. I suggest this for older/mature middle-graders and young adults.
© 2017, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.