The Kite Fighters

by Linda Sue Park

Published by Clarion Books

144 pages, 2000





Dueling Kites

Reviewed by Lynne Remick


In 15th century Korea, tradition holds that responsibility and privilege fall on the shoulders of the elder son. Although talented and able, Lee Young-sup, a second child, inherits only the duty to assist his brother and carry on the Lee family's rice business. Longing to go with his father to visit the graves of their ancestors, Young-sup must accept his place and keep quiet. For only Kee-sup, born first, inherits the rite of passage.

Only when Young-sup holds his precious reel in his hand and flies his kite does he forget about his bitterness in playing second fiddle to his brother, Kee-sup. With his kite an extension of himself, soaring in the wind, Young-sup is not second. Even Kee-sup cannot fly as well as he can.

Kee-sup arranged the line and held the kite as Young-sup had done, then released it and yanked on the reel. The kite crashed to the ground.

"No, no!" cried Young-sup. "The most important thing is to wait for the right moment."

"How do you know when it's right?" Kee-sup sounded cross.

"Young-sup hesitated. "It's right when it -- when it ... Can't you tell?"

"Of course not, that's why I'm asking you, pigbrain."

As Kee-sup journeys toward adulthood, Young-sup's relationship with him becomes strained. Young-sup develops a secret friendship with the king of Korea. The king admires Young-sup's skill in flying, and bestows an honor upon the boy, asking that Young-sup fly his kite in the New Year kite competition. However, when Young-sup tells his father of this fortune, the eldest Lee decides that elder brother Kee-sup must fly the kite and honor his family.

The envy created as a result of Kee-sup's unwanted, but preferential treatment causes further tension between the brothers. Can the two fulfill the obligations to which they were born and still remain friends? While restricted by the society in which they live, these two brothers find ways to brave the kite fighting competitions, be true to themselves and respect each other.

Even in the aftermath of the charm and universal appeal of See Saw Girl, author Linda Sue Park's inspiring first book, I was unprepared for the overwhelming effect that The Kite Fighters would have on me.

Historical and cultural in nature, The Kite Fighters paints a realistic picture of coming of age in Korea in 1473. However, regardless of when it is set, The Kite Fighters relays a timeless, compelling story that easily translates to our own age. Brothers Young-sup and Kee-sup engage in believable brotherly battles and give the reader characters they can easily identify with.

As carefully and painstakingly as Young-sup builds his exquisite kites, Park fashions a story aimed at nine-to-12-year-olds that is both beautiful and durable. Line by line, the competition between two brothers evolves into a sturdy tale that shall stand the test of time. | January 2001


An avid reader, established reviewer and writer of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, historical romance and children's book, Lynne Remick can always be found with a book in her hand. She lives in New York with her fiance Michael, her son Kevin, her Schipperke Dante, a feral cat named Sahara and a spoiled hedgehog named Nike. There, in a little house once owned by her Great Grandparents, she reads, writes stories, book reviews, writing columns and poetry.