Monday 17 August 2020

Little Jiang

 Little Jiang by Shirley Marr, illustrated by Katy Jiang (Freemantle Press) RRP $14.99 PB ISBN 9781925816471

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Little Jiang is a story about Mei, a girl who lives with her parents in the Augusta Moon Chinese restaurant in the fictitious town of Honeywood. The story begins in Hungry Ghost month when those in the spirit world are let out to do as they wish. And Mei, born at an inauspicious time on an inauspicious day, and so doomed to be unlucky, can see every one of these spirits. Mei’s world is not going so well – her dad has lost his vision and the family can’t afford the operation, her mum is getting sick, and because Mei constantly sees ghosts and behaves strangely, she has no friends at school. 

The story is from Mei’s perspective but moves very briefly into the point of view of Dr Heckyll, owner of the Mega Morgue and Funeral Home next to Mei’s restaurant. Dr Heckyll creates an ‘Insta-Jiang’ potion and brings back to life a boy from the Xing dynasty, who happens to be buried in the cemetery. ‘Jiang’ as the boy is called, turns up at Mei’s school and becomes her friend, even though he has greenish skin, smells funny and doesn’t speak. Meanwhile, in the town, people are being turned into Jiangshi (a zombie vampire) and a Bagua master is called in to take control. Mei’s mum becomes ill and she and Mei are taken to the spirit world for a cure by the Peony Princess – a cross between a fox and a woman. When they return, Mei must save her new friend Jiang, and the town by uncovering the truth. 

This is a fantastical and fast-moving tale. The fact that the Jiangshi can only be repelled by shooting them with glutinous rice balls, was a good humorous detail along with the ‘Artificial Essence of Black Dog’. The emergence of the previously unlikable Jimmy Sweet as a key to saving the town was also unpredictable. Through the book, black and white illustrations bring flavour to the story along with descriptions of Kung Pow chicken, a dish I’d like to try sometime!


This is an imaginative book with plenty of ghosts and zombies for middle-grade readers.  

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