In turn-of-the-century Oregon, an adopted child discovers that she was once a member of the despised local Chinese community. When Papa is hospitalized, unconscious, after an accident at work, Mellie (11) is left frighteningly alone--her adoptive mother died years ago, and Aunt Estie has gone on a month's vacation. At great risk (prejudice against the Chinese is virulent), laundryman Liu Geem-Wah befriends her, calling her ""Mei Li""; and although at first she tries to reject his help, Mellie feels inexplicably drawn to him and his family. When she discovers that she was once the beloved adopted daughter of Geem-Wah's deceased brother, she is able to prevail on her now-recovered father to brave local custom and allow her to continue her friendship with the Liu family. Basing her story on a true similar case, Howard (whose other fine books include Gillyflower and Edith Herself) uses a valuable piece of social history as background for a courageous child's confrontation of a series of traumas: by the time the story begins, Mellie has lost three mothers as well as vital memories of her time with the Lius and its violent termination. Howard makes her stress poignant and believable; the returning memories give the fast-moving story depth, and combine with well-individualized characters to make an unusual, engrossing story.