Title: AIMEI AND THE POEM OF CHEN SUWEN
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Mystery
Word Count: 65,000 words
My Main Character’s Most Stressful Relationship is…
Aimei’s most stressful relationship is with her father. The way he acts toward her has changed. It’s not just that because now she’s older, they’re both supposed to be more formal. It’s that, from when she was tiny, Father taught her lines from famous poets and the sages, and would laugh when she repeated them perfectly. Now that Aimei’s actually studying the Classics, loves her studies and is good at them, he seems displeased. Sometimes he’s furious, even frightening, but he won’t say why. The times he’s the baba she remembers are few and far between, and she misses him so much.
AIMEI AND THE POEM OF CHEN SUWEN, a middle-grade historical mystery set in Nanjing, China, in 1789—the year George Washington was elected President and the French Revolution began.
Twelve-year-old Chen Aimei is devoted to her studies, despite being “only” a girl. Since her parents have no son, Aimei is determined to give them the gift of her scholarship, despite their stated wishes that she stick to traditional feminine pursuits. It’s hard to concentrate on her work, though, when most of the family is terrified. Aimei’s youngest uncle, in the capital for the Imperial Exams, has offended the Emperor so deeply that an impossibly huge fine has been levied against them—to be paid in just ten days. Failure to pay will mean the imprisonment of Fourth Uncle and the loss of all the family owns, including the estate they have lived on for hundreds of years.
Aimei is sure only she—the only child of the eldest son of the Chen patriarch—can single out the poem of their ancestor, the poet Chen Suwen, that holds the clues to the location of his long-hidden treasure. Grandfather secretly gives Aimei his permission, but only her friend, the maid Holly, brought to the Chens’ as an orphan when the girls were small, helps her in her search. Together, Aimei and Holly must decipher the tricky clues, brave the world outside the gates of the estate, and outsmart Aimei’s jealous cousins to save the family and regain for Aimei the love and esteem of her father.
First 250 words:
Half a month had passed since Fourth Uncle’s disappearance in Beijing. Every member of the Chen household had something to say about it.
Chen Aimei’s mother said, “He’s failed the Imperial Exams!” and the aunts whispered, “He’s offended a powerful family!”
Fourth Uncle’s young wife, terrified, said, “He’s been murdered!”
But Grandfather said, “He has always been somewhat thoughtless. Let us have patience.”
And Father was just angry.
Nobody really knew anything, so Aimei tried to ignore the gossip. She was working on Master Confucius’s Doctrine of the Mean in her lessons, and that was really important. Fourth Uncle would come back home to Nanjing when he stopped having a good time.
Aimei’s day had begun as usual, another autumn day in October 1789, the ninth month of the forty-sixth year of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (may he live ten thousand years!).
The moon was still up and the sun still asleep when Aimei woke. She didn’t want to waste a single minute of her lesson by being late, so she put on the same faded gold-brown silk skirt and overdress she’d worn the day before and tied her hair up in a topknot. Teacher Zhang wouldn’t care, and he was the only person she ever saw this early in the morning.
Aimei left her rooms, calligraphy box in hand, and eagerly headed down the corridor to the door that led directly outside. She stepped out into the cool darkness, onto the open walkway that ran through the garden courtyard.