Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument used to be her grandmother’s—made of warm, rich wood, and intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon. When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, Neela is devastated. As she searches for it, strange clues surface: a teakettle ornamented with a familiar-looking dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela's intrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. If she is able to track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?
In a blending of Indian and American culture, Sheela Chari has crafted an endearing mystery that will enchant readers and teach them a few things along the way as well!
Neela is a pretty typical sixth grader--often late to school, has friends and enemies at school, and, like so many kids her age, plays a musical instrument. However, while many other students take up the violen or the flute, Neela plays the veena--a traditional Indian stringed instrument. Until recently she has practiced on her teacher's student veena; then, one of her grandmother's coveted veenas shows up in the mail! It's absolutely beautiful and Neela is thrilled to have a veena all her own. She decides to take it to school as a sort of "show-and-tell" and is surprised at the students who take interest in her instrument. On the way home from school, Neela gets caught in the rain and takes shelter in a church, where she meets Hal. Hal claims he used to work for the church and makes her a cup of cocoa. He disappears rather abruptly and Neela returns to the closet where she stored her veena only to find it missing!
Determined to find her Veena, despite her mother's insistence that the instrument is bad luck, Neela embarks on a charming mystery adventure. As she uncovers clue after clue, Neela must connect the dots and figure out: is the veena truly cursed? Neela's personality is endearing and she is nothing if not persistent. I enjoyed how determined she was to find her instrument. Her friends aren't as well-developed as charcters as I might have liked, but I felt like I knew them enough to enjoy their presence in the story, especially Matt, who I felt was probably one of the most developed side characters. Matt is the kind of character that you can't help but like. His friendship comes fairly easily, and he's always willing to help. He ends up almost as involved in solving the mystery as Neela!
While I kept reading because I desperately wanted to know what happened to the instrument, the novel did seem a bit lengthy to me. I felt that it could have been condensed a bit to increase the pacing for younger readers. When the action does pick up towards the end, it is engaging and fun to read. I found once I hit that point in the story that I couldn't put the book down! This was definitely an enjoyable read that I would recommend to MG mystery fans.