When Aunt Lin goes missing in Fuzhou, 11-year-old Mia might be the only one who can find her—and maybe solve a centuries-old mystery along the way.
Although she hasn’t been to China since she was a very little girl, Mia isn't looking forward to summer there, away from her friends. But Aunt Lin’s excitement about sharing “where their family had come from” is contagious, and Mia loves hearing her old histories of an exiled Ming emperor and his long-lost treasure. After Aunt Lin disappears, Mia realizes, with the help of a family heirloom conveniently–turned–treasure map, that solving the emperor’s riddle is the key to rescuing her kidnapped aunt. Readers will appreciate the portrayal of a second-generation immigrant’s gradual sense of belonging in a distant, inherited home. They may also recall a more humorous and plausible treatment of that experience in Thanhha Lai’s Listen, Slowly (2015)—starring, coincidentally, another Mia. Zhang’s middle-grade debut then takes a turn into a crowded field: puzzle-solving, kid-detective stories. Here, it’s a fresh take; it’s a treat to get a side of ancient Chinese lore and contemporary geography with the standard mystery fare. Readers may wish for historical backmatter and a more-detailed map to flesh out both lore and land, however. Unfortunately, occasionally ponderous writing (“Mia gave Jake a speaking look”) and an abundant-to-the-point-of-distraction use of italics (including, inconsistently, Chinese words) detract from a worthy story.
An uneven but enjoyable-enough adventure. (Mystery. 8-12)