Julie is a girl living in San Francisco in the 1970's. She lives with her mother and older sister, because her parents are divorced and share custody.
Julie's best friend is Ivy, who is Chinese. When Ivy's grandmother and grandfather donate some old clothing to Gladrags, the secondhand clothes store run by Julie's mother, Julie finds a strange message written in Chinese characters tucked into an old red jacket, she brings it to Ivy when they meet at the restaurant run by her grandparents.
There, among members of Ivy's class at school, Ivy's teacher translates the note, which is about the home her great-grandmother owned in China, and about a special doll that Po Po, Ivy's grandmother was very fond of. But seeing the note brings back a lot of memories for Po Po. The note wasn't about what her life was really like, but the story she had to tell the immigration officials to be let into the country.
She is puzzled about the comments about how important the doll is to her, as she really only got it as a gift from the woman next door only a few days before she sailed. Po Po's mother was supposed to accompany her, but she stayed behind because she got sick, and died only a few weeks after Po Po left. But her mother once owned a magnificent Jade Necklace that should have been the foundation of their prosperity in the family's new life. But she never sent it with Po Po, and it was lost, probably in China, when she died.
However, after the party, Julie and Ivy discover that their Chinese dolls have been stolen from Ivy's room, and the room has been roughly searched. Later, they discover Ivy's doll, Gung Gung, outside in the alley behind the restaurant. Whoever took her pulled off her head and put it back on backwards, and then they find Yue Yin stuffed into the garbage bin behind another Chinatown store. And a strange man on a motorcycle seems to be following them around.
Julie is certain that the theft of the dolls has something to do with the doll mentioned in the letter, and perhaps the jade necklace owned by Po Po's mother. But who is trying to steal the doll, and why? Why is Ivy's teacher so angry at Ivy and Julie for trying to get to the bottom of this mystery? And can the two girls find the doll and the woman that Po Po gave the doll to as a girl, before the other person finds it first?
Another American girl mystery, but unlike "The Tangled Web", Julie isn't especially gullible in this one. Although she doesn't seem to catch why someone would want to search her dolls until later in the book- that Po Po's mother probably hid the jade necklace in the doll, which is why her mother claimed it was so important and would bring her happiness.
The biggest mystery in the book is who is behind the theft of the dolls and who breaks into the house of Mei, the girl who was Po Po's friend, and who Po Po gave the doll to, and that kind of brought me up short- how was the culprit able to break into the house? You'd think that, given who they were, it would be much harder for them to do so.
But I liked the story, and the outcome. Julie seems to have gotten a smarts injection, and it's good. I especially liked the heartwarming aspect of the story, that she and Ivy reconnect Po Po and her friend from long ago and allow them to meet and resume their friendship, which made me smile. Recommended.