Using a box of enchanted pastels, 12-year-old Chinese-Australian Mimi Lu creates a fantasy garden with supernatural properties.
Mimi’s relationship with her parents is frustratingly superficial, until her father leaves to attend his dying brother. Oblivious to the bullying she faces at school, he pressures her only to succeed. After her art teacher recognizes her talent and pain and gives her the ancient pastels of Chinese Empress Cassia, she immerses herself in drawing a beautiful garden on the sidewalk. Those in emotional pain can magically step into the garden and be healed. Working together, Mimi and her mother offer tea to the crowd that forms around the garden, shared work resolving their emotional distance. But Mimi’s worst bully steals the pastels, potentially deadly in the wrong hands, and she must try to get them back. Partly because of this Australian import’s sheer brevity, only Mimi springs to life. Other characters are nearly colorless, and often stereotypical. While the bicultural issues Mimi faces offer a rich canvas for potential exploration—never fully developed—resolution of her problems comes too readily and predictably. Tiny, attractive pencil sketches begin each chapter, but don’t add measurably to the presentation.Hinting of a spell of unearthly enchantment with its mystical healing garden and the good-hearted artist that creates it, this effort offers promise but ultimately is more charcoal sketch than pastel panorama. (Magical realism. 9-12)