About The Crystal Ribbon
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good.
She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.
I tend to like genre-blending books, and since The Crystal Ribbon mixes a historical setting with real cultural issues with some magical elements, I found it to be a really unusual, interesting read. The story itself reminded me a teeny bit of Disney’s Mulan, in that it follows a strong heroine through a time period and culture where she feels entirely out of place for her strength. While Jing doesn’t join an army or literally fight as a soldier, she does challenge enemies and use her cleverness and strength of heart to overcome difficulties. I liked her character a lot and enjoyed reading about her.
The story itself feels like it should be more of a middle grade book, since Jing is about twelve as it begins, but the tone is much more mature. I’d probably call this one a coming-of-age tale rather than middle grade, though that label doesn’t feel perfectly right either.
Readers who enjoy history and foreign settings will like the careful attention to setting and culture in The Crystal Ribbon. Readers who enjoy a taste of magic lurking beyond the ordinary will find Jing’s adventures engaging as well.
The story takes place in China. One character is described as having golden hair and pale skin, and Jing wonders if he’s from some faraway place.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
During her time in the city, Jing encounters some men who solicit the company of women. They tease the girls and pat them on their behinds. Jing feels totally creeped out by the whole idea.
Each city has its own spirit worshipped by the people who live there. In Jing’s hometown, it’s the Great Huli Jing, a five-tailed fox who saved the village from disaster.
Jing meets some other spirits (jing) through the course of the story. A spider weaves a magical ladder to help her. A woman with skeletal hands visits her in the night. Jing visits and prays to altars for various jing and at her mother’s gravesite altar.
Jing’s in-laws punish her by caning her or using a torture device which severely damages her fingers. Some details included. Sensitive readers may find that part especially difficult to read.