Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate, Young Adult
Author: Kat Zhang
Illustrator: Robyn Ng
To reconnect with their roots, the Chen family spend their summer vacation in China. The best part for Mia Chen is hearing about her Aunt Lin’s upbringing. As a teenager, Aunt Lin was a laborer in the Fujian countryside, where she and fellow laborer, Ying, heard about the deposed emperor, Zhu Yunwen, and his hidden treasure. During Mia’s vacation, Ying arrives to see Aunt Lin. The next day, Aunt Lin leaves without telling Mia. Thinking Aunt Lin may have been kidnapped, Mia searches for clues in Aunt Lin’s room. Mia finds a list of riddles and an incomplete map and believes that if she solves them, she can rescue Aunt Lin. All the clues lead Mia and her brother Jake into the Fujian countryside. Before they find the treasure, Ying captures them and holds them hostage with Aunt Lin. In the end, they are able to escape and uncover Zhu Yunwen’s hidden wealth.
The Emperor’s Riddle is a delightful mix of history, mystery, and adventure that will keep readers glued to its pages. However, the heart of Zhang’s story is about an insecure girl whose intelligence rescues someone she loves. Mia is unsure about who she is, and her immediate family doesn't know how to treat her. Jake partially abandoned Mia once he became popular at school. Mia’s driven and determined mother doesn’t have the patience to understand Mia. Only Aunt Lin notices and loves Mia for who she is. When Aunt Lin is kidnapped, Mia is momentarily lost, but her love for Aunt Lin drives her towards resolving all the Emperor’s Riddles and becoming a strong heroine. This is a wonderful story about finding oneself and a fun, engaging read for ages twelve and up.