Tan, Susan

Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards

(1) 4-6 Monica "Mo" Lin, a sixth-grade Chinese American girl, has moved with her mother and half-sister to the (fictional) small town of New Warren, Massachusetts, to live with her "aging Chinese hippie" great-uncle, Ray. Mo struggles with grief over her stepfather's abandonment and with anxiety as she tries to take care of her family with little help from her detached mother. Then a circus elephant begins to appear in her dreams. Confronted with a supernatural mystery surrounding the elephant's death in a century-old town fire, Mo joins with classmate Nathaniel in a plot to solve the mystery and bring the elephant peace. She finds in Nathaniel an impulsive risk-taker who earns and then breaks her trust before their final confrontation with a malevolent ghost. Mo's quintessentially middle-grade voice pivots from no-nonsense (when she's in family-caretaking mode) to frightened (in the face of ghost-hunting) to sad (when confronting the state of her family); as one of the few non-white people in town, she also deals with frequent microaggressions. Tan's narrative employs rich sensory details that immediately hook readers and don't let go until the very last sentence. It turns out, as Mo and Nathaniel discover, that friendship, in all its messy glory, can be one of the biggest mysteries of all.


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