Jialing and her mother reside in the Western Residence on Dragon Springs Road. On the day her mother left Jialing, she burned incense and sat with the fox spirit who has lived in their courtyard for centuries. She promised to return but after 3 days she had not returned yet. Jialing does not leave the Western Residence because her mother told her never to do so. She is Eurasian and is not accepted by society. A new family soon moves in to the recently vacated Central Residence and Jialing meets a friend her age, Yang Anjuin. Anjuin becomes her best friend and introduces her to Anjuin's grandmother, Grandmother Yang, and Jialing is hired as a bondservant to do housework in the Yang home in exchange for food and the few coins Jialing's mother left her. Jialing continues to sleep in the Western Residence where she talks daily with the fox spirit and continues to wait for her mother to return.
When a new white family moves into the Eastern Residence Jialing befriends their daughter Anna Shea. She soon learns Mrs. Shea is unhappy living in Shanghai and takes it out on her husband and daughter with abusive behavior. After Anna mysteriously dies the Sheas move and a group of teachers from a local Christian school move in. Jialing is offered an education and the Yangs agree to let her attend in exchange for money.
Jialing grows into adulthood, always relying on advice from the fox spirit and always looking for her long lost mother to return.
There is alot more to this story than what I summarized. I found it to be engrossing and read it in one sitting. I loved the characters. Jialing and Anjuin are sympathetic characters as is Jialing's fox spirit friend. The story moves along at a nice speed with Jialing having to deal with alot of obstacles including racism. I have always been attracted to Asian fiction which is one reason why I loved this story. However, I must say that this is one of the best books that I have read in awhile.