Human rights abuses in China get all too personal for a couple of American high school students in this appealing thriller.
Tenth-graders Ethan and Ti-Anna gradually become closer friends and partner investigators when Ti-Anna’s father disappears. Known for his activism on behalf of Chinese dissidents, he loses contact with his family on a trip to Hong Kong. Ethan and Ti-Anna engineer a trip to Asia to investigate, which ultimately puts the initially retiring Ti-Anna into peril. It is a dangerous journey, full of mysterious threats, that requires them each to trust and support the other. It’s not a romance at all, though there are some overtones of that: Front and center is the conundrum of how they will track someone who doesn’t want to be tracked, in a strange city and with the government as their opponent. There’s a nice vibe to the friendship between the two, which is supported by the assurance that all is ultimately well; Ethan states at the beginning that the account he narrates is being written for a judge. Hiatt neatly folds in information and background on 20th-century Chinese history and current events. Few mysteries combine cultural diversity, politics and physical danger with a lighthearted friendship.
This engaging mix will have great appeal to middle school readers in search of adventure; the geopolitical education is a nice bonus. (Thriller. 11-16)