Since her father left China to work years ago on building a Canadian railroad, then disappeared, teenager Li Jun tries to fulfill a promise made to her dying mother to find him.
To escape the economic limitations imposed on females, she dresses as a boy and finds work in a fireworks factory, then discovers there is only one likely way to get to Canada: as a railroad worker herself. Now called Little Tiger, she is quickly attracted to the railroad owner's son, James, who is recruiting workers in China, setting up an eventual, improbable romance. Following a brutal cross-Pacific sea voyage, she experiences the horrific conditions thousands of Chinese railroad workers suffered through. Literate and fluent in English, she uncovers in the railroad camp evidence of a criminal conspiracy, although she only slowly puts clues together. While the depiction of the workers’ conditions is enlightening, little else about this novelization of the film and miniseries Iron Road works well. The plot is predictable, and dialogue is trite. Li Jun's English is inconsistent—sometimes she’s fully fluent, but other times she displays a stereotypical immigrant awkwardness. That she could successfully conceal her gender, especially during months in a ship's hold devoid of any privacy, stretches credulity to the limit.
The concept is full of promise, but the product ultimately disappoints. (Historical fiction. 12-18)