Paper Chase: The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter (A Julie Mystery) by Kathryn Reiss
Julie reached for the red quilted coat. Sticking her hands into each of the pockets, she wiggled her fingers, searching for tears that would need mending. Sure enough, she found a little rip in the seam of one pocket. Something rustled as she withdrew her fingers. She felt a small folded piece of paper caught in the lining.
"Hey, look!" Julie held up the folded square for her sister to see. "A letter!" She unfolded the paper. "Oh, wait--it's in Chinese!"
When Julie offers to help out at her mom's used clothing shop Gladrags, she stumbles upon an intriguing puzzle. Taking the obviously very old paper square jammed with characters to her Chinese-American friend Ivy's for a sleepover, she shows the note to Ivy's grandmother, who recognizes the note instantly as the one sent with her by her mother in 1919 when she immigrated to San Francisco to be with her merchant father there.
Grandmother Jiao Jie had thought the note lost during the voyage, and excitedly reads it aloud to a circle of friends and customers at their restaurant, The Happy Panda, and then tells the story of her ocean journey and her detention at Angel Island with another girl, Mei Meng, a "paper daughter," a girl whose family sent her to America claiming to be the child of an established Chinese-American family. Mei Meng, too, has a "coaching note" with many details about her supposed home village and the family which she is to claim, and both girls eventually pass their interrogation and are allowed to enter the United States, Mei to move in with her adopting family in Oakland, taking with her Kai, an old ragdoll that Jiao Jie gives her as a token of their friendship.
As she reads the note aloud, Jiao Jie wonders again why in the note her mother had given her a strange instructions:
"... give Kai to Father when you arrive; she will bless you both with riches until we meet again, my dear Jiao Jie."
Then when Julie and Ivy go upstairs to spend the night with Ivy's grandparents, they find the apartment has been broken into, with only two objects taken--their old Chinese dolls. Julie is intrigued with this mystery. And when they find the two dolls in the bins behind the store, both with their heads ripped off, Julie is sure that there is some connection to Grandmother's story. As the girls research the story, Julie begins to suspect that the doll the thief was after was indeed Kai, the old ragdoll Jiao Jie gave to her friend long ago, and that the "riches" mentioned in the coaching note must have been concealed within the doll itself. Ivy's grandmother recalls that when she was reunited with her Father, he immediately asked her about the valuable jade necklace her mother was to send with her to stake his new business, a necklace which she believed her mother had not given to her before she left.
Now Julie and Ivy know that the jade necklace had indeed made the voyage, hidden safely inside Jiao Jie's old doll and that her mother, too ill to make the trip, was sure that her father would understand the meaning of the final sentence of the note. And the two friends also realize that that necklace may still be safe inside the ragdoll, and that Jiao Jie's friend Mei Meng may still have it. The two girl sleuths now realize that someone else is searching for Mei Meng and the doll and that they must find Mei before the would-be thief does.
In her latest in the Julie Mystery series, set in the San Francisco of the early 1970s, author Kathryn Reiss interweaves the setting of Julie's time with the history of Chinese immigrants to the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Reiss constructs a skillfully developed and absorbing mystery which takes her two detectives deep into San Francisco's and Oakland's Chinatown, to the microfilm archives of the library, and a tour of the facilities at the detention center at Angel Island in search of the elusive Mei Meng. Puzzle of the Paper Daughter: A Julie Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) (American Girl, 2010) maintains the high level of writing and historical fact which is the hallmark of the notable American Girl series and includes a pictorial historical appendix which adds much to this suspenseful Julie adventure.
For readers who wish to delve into this subject further, there is also Jeanette Ingold's fine historical novel for middle readers, Paper Daughter and M. Elaine Mar's personal account, Paper Daughter: A Memoir.