Little Jiang (Shirley Marr, illus by Katy Jiang, Fremantle Press)
Born under a confluence of inauspicious signs and hitherto haunted by all manner of hungry ghosts, it’s difficult for Mei to dismiss her aunt’s firmly held belief that she is cursed. And that’s before the arrival of Jiang—sweet, quiet, almost certainly undead and followed by a horde of soul-swallowing hopping vampires. It’s impossible to adequately sum up the untameable punk spirit that thrums between the lines of Little Jiang; simply put, this book slaps. It barrels ahead with the same knockabout energy of the Hong Kong horror comedies it shares tropes with but goes so much further—author Shirley Marr’s imagination is boundless. This novel has everything: glutinous rice ball guns, a Bagua master with a concealed laser cannon, a world of ghosts, a mad mortician, a princess that eats hearts. The wild shifts in tone threaten whiplash, but the narrative is held together by Marr’s deadpan wit, Katy Jiang’s striking and spirited illustrations and, of course, by Mei herself. Earnest, generous and open-minded, she is a wonderfully calming lodestone at the centre of all this madness. Little Jiang is many things, but chief among them is a rollicking good time. It is perfect for middle-grade fans of The Graveyard Book who have also thought to themselves, ‘This could really slap more.’
Phil Lesnie is a children’s illustrator and a bookseller at Kinokuniya Sydney.