Seesaw Girl by Linda Sue Park
Seesaw Girl by Linda Sue Park is a relatively short book targeted towards children and young adults and teaches the reader much about the nuances of past Korean culture. The story revolves around Jade Blossom, a 12-year-old girl from the wealthy family of an advisor to the king, who lived in 17th century Korea. Jade is very adventurous and curious about the outside world beyond the high walls of her family’s Inner Court, a world she was not allowed to see because Korean women at the time could only leave once they were married.
She plays pranks on the boys with her aunt and best friend Willow, until Willow gets married and leaves for her husband’s house and Jade realizes they would never see each other again. Tiger, her brother, tells her about the places he has been to like, the marketplace and the mountains and sparks her longing to see these places. One day, Jade makes an elaborate plan to escape into the marketplace inside a basket, determined to look for Willow. Once outside, she discovers many things; girls and women who were not confined in compounds, shipwrecked Dutch sailors who were being held as prisoners, and privileges she did not know she had.
Eventually, Jade learns to appreciate and understand her place in the world, although it never stops her from wanting to see the outside. He brother helps her learn how to paint, and a Korean seesaw finally shows her the mountains she had been longing to see. The setting of Seesaw Girl is probably very different from the world that the book’s target reader would know. Even if a modern-day Korean girl reads the book, there are still stark differences in culture brought about by the passing of time. However, this does not mean that the reader would not be able to relate to or understand the characters in the story.
From the very beginning, the first chapter shows Jade and Willow playing an elaborate prank on the boys. Even though there is some cultural significance to the fact that they messed with the brushes only the boys could use, the act of playing a prank on your sibling or being the sibling who falls victim to the prank is something that most can relate to. Immediately, this fun beginning to the story shows the reader that despite the strange time and setting, this is a coming-of-age story just like any other.
This girl who could have lived so many centuries ago, the reader will realize, is not too different from “you or me”. In a way, her losing Willow is just like any kid whose childhood friend suddenly moves away, her not being able to go outside would be just like how any kid feels when her parents would not let her do something because they say they know what is best for her. The reader only needs to take these shared feelings and imagine dealing with them on a daily basis to understand what Jade might be feeling or experiencing.
The reader could even learn to sympathize with other characters, like Jade’s brother, Tiger, who has privileges that come with responsibilities even though he did not ask for them. He willingly enough shares these privileges with Jade, giving her sweets, telling her of the things he sees, and even going so far as to help steal charcoal and paper for her. Tiger is a loving big brother just like any other big brother. The most compelling argument is probably brought about by Jade’s mother after Jade had been brought home from the marketplace.
When Jade’s mother tells her to do her chores with a willing heart as punishment and Jade asks her if that is enough, she says that she has learned to make it enough. This shows the reader, and Jade, that everyone wants to be somewhere or someone different; everyone deals with a little discontentment sometimes and needs to find one’s own happiness. Seesaw Girl teaches the reader that no matter where, or when, you might live, everyone at one point or another shares the struggles of wanting to be free, to be heard, to be happy, and to be yourself.