Grace Lin’s new novel makes a delightful holiday gift, with its jewel-toned illustrations and intriguing stories-within-a-story structure. And it’s perfect for a family read-aloud, too, with its short chapters, vivid imagery and memorable protagonist, an angry runaway named Rendi. The setting is the old, fantastical China of Lin’s “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” winner of a 2010 Newbery Honor. As with that first book, the embedded tales hold clues to the central mysteries of the larger narrative. Why does Rendi prefer a “hot, dried-up village” to the home of which he refuses to speak? Why is the moon missing, and is its loss tied to the nightly wails that only he can hear? Though initially aloof, Rendi begins listening to the stories told by Madame Chang, a gracious guest at the poor inn where he works, and he gets drawn into the lives of the innkeeper’s young daughter and a forgetful sage and his pet toad. When coaxed by Madame Chang, Rendi shares stories that slowly reveal his true identity and feelings about his past — a transformative experience that finally gives him the compassion and courage to seek out the source of those mournful cries. Lin deftly brings together her motifs and clues — a jade bracelet, a vanished mountain — in unexpected, sometimes humorous ways that highlight the power of stories to move, surprise and enchant.
— Mary Quattlebaum