"I knew more about race horses than I knew about myself--I mean myself as a Chinese," says Casey, a street-wise, jeans-wearing twelve-year-old. Then her father Barney's gambling habit lands him in the hospital, the victim of a beating, and Casey is sent to live with her Paw-Paw (grandmother) in the small, tight world that was San Francisco's Chinatown during the early Sixties. Marked as an outsider by her inability to speak Chinese and, for the first time, questioning the Americanized values of friends like Tallulah "Booger" Chew (whose ambition is to design clothes for Katy Keene comics) and Gilbert, who models himself after James Dean, Casey comes to think of herself as a child of the Owl-Spirit--the family's ancestress according to Paw-Paw and the central figure of a long, dreamlike legend that has been handed down through the generations. But while the Owl-Spirit helps Casey to find her way as an alien caught between two cultures and to feel close to the mother she never knew, it is the toughness she's learned from Barney that sends her out on a hunt for the burglar who steals Paw-Paw's valuable owl charm. Visions of herself as both a Kung Fu heroine and child of the owl clash when Casey, Booger, and Paw-Paw's elderly friend, Mr. Jeh, capture the thief and are horrified to discover his identity. Yet even the surprise ending fits seamlessly into Yep's vision, which combines the chiseled fantasy of Dragonwings (1975) with the hard-edged anxieties of growing up poor and non-white in the early Beatles era. This is played out against a background of underheated walk-up flats, cheap souvenir shops, and memories of the old China where dream-souls wandered the earth at night, a beautifully transmuted Chinatown legend, and an odds-on popular favorite as well.