Eleven-year-old Sienna embarks on an adventure with her imaginary spaniel friend, Rufus, to find her missing mother and discovers much more than she bargained for.
Sienna’s art-historian mom, Kate, disappears while doing research in China. Now that Sienna and her dad are moving from London to Shanghai, she is determined to find her. It’s no easy task. Sienna speaks limited Mandarin-Chinese, and Ling, the live-in housekeeper her dad has hired, is mean and controlling, and she doesn’t let Sienna out of her sight. Even Rufus rarely visits her now. One day, while her dad is away on business, Sienna catches Ling doing something sinister and realizes she’s likely involved in Kate’s disappearance. Sienna manages to escape with only the clothes on her back and a tin box filled with her mother’s letters. Luckily, Sienna meets Feng, a young Chinese boy who knew Kate while she was working at the Temple of Fragrant Mountain of Pingdingshan in Henan province. Feng believes his brother and Kate are being held by the same crooks and wants to help. They decide to take the night train to Pingdingshan. As a disguise, the white girl wraps her blonde hair in a scarf and wears concealing clothing. Along the way, Sienna’s posse grows, the allies each accompanied by their own imaginary pet friends. Their dialogue adds some comic relief, while the suspense plot provides a modicum of tension. Sienna’s outsider view gives readers unfamiliar with Chinese culture some elementary introduction.
Friendship, perseverance, suspense, action—plus a little Chinese culture thrown in—this tale has something for most readers. (Fantasy. 8-12)