Thursday, January 25, 2018

Moon Princess by Barbara Laban

Full confession: I did not read all the book selections for my October Book Explosion meeting, genre fantasy. The kids (5th+) kindly informed me that I should start reading right away for the adventure genre the next month because I could explain better about the books when I'd read them. But I still have to make choices next year, so I'm trying to do both. It's, um, not working out amazingly well, probably because I'm also tackling books for several different Cybils categories as well as other projects. Oh well. I have gotten through a few!

There was only one copy in the consortium of Moon Princess, and nobody was interested in taking it. I collected it to read over lunch and I have to say - I'm glad none of the kids took it and I won't be using it as a book club choice again.

Shy Sienna has no friends but her magical companion, a sarcastic (and invisible) dog named Rufus. Her archaeologist mother disappeared in China and her dad doesn't want to talk about it. Then he comes home with news - they're moving to China. Before Sienna has time to process what's happening, she's installed in an apartment in Shanghai with a villainous Chinese housekeeper named Ling and the possibility of a mysterious friend, a boy named Feng. When she encounters her mother's lost invisible friend, a cat named Ming, the invisible friends, Sienna, and Feng set out to find Sienna's mother and her driver and assistant, Feng's older brother. Eventually they uncover a fraud in the temple and their missing family members, and the nasty Ling and corrupt monks get their comeuppance, as does Ling's dangerous crocodilian invisible friend.

The book is surprisingly stereotyped and racist, considering the author has lived in Taipei and studied the area. There is also a certain clunky turn of phrase that can be attributed to a less-than-stellar translation. However, it's glaringly obvious that of the actual Chinese protagonists one is a stereotyped villain, one is a helpless child who needs (white) Sienna to save him, and the others are clueless or corrupt monks. The mysterious doctor who helps them is another stereotype, that of a "wise elder" with little to no personality beyond his brief appearance.

The story dashes to a quick conclusion with no explanation of the origin of the invisible animals, why Sienna's father's job takes him to China (to the exact place her mother disappeared) or even a possible mention of the perhaps legitimate complaint that some of the local inhabitants resented her mother for apparently waltzing in to write a book about their own culture and history.

Verdict: It sounded good in the initial description I read, but it was disappointing in the end. Buy an extra copy of The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang instead. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9781338118551; Published 2017 by Scholastic/Chicken House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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