While this book won an award for children's literature, I think the children reading it need to either have a good vocabulary or keep a dictionary on hand. (I didn't know words like pestilential, coomb, and palaver when I was 13.) While the story telling and the imagery are good, there were subtle digs against Christianity and some poor doctrine dropped here and there along the way. I also felt a little let down at the end, as though something should have happened, but nothing very grand did. My one other complaint: Theo is American, but because he grew out his hair like a Chinese and wears Chinese clothes, even Chinese people can't tell he's not Chinese by looking at his face. I think it would be slightly more obvious than that.
Basic story: Theo is raised by his missionary father in a Christian community in pre-1900 China. The Boxers burn the settlement to the ground, but Theo escapes. He joins up with an English woman traveling through China drawing and collecting plants. She is profane, and while Theo shrinks away from her language and lifestyle, there isn't anyone else to help him. Their traveling party is attacked by bandits, meets up with other obstacles, and final dwindles to three - Theo, the woman, and one Chinese man who loves her. They end up in Tibet, where her half-Chinese unborn baby is thought to be the reincarnation of a lama. (Not the Dali lama, just a lama.) Throughout the book Theo wrestles with his Christian beliefs, especially after he comes to live in the Buddhist monastery and must translate for the English woman. The ending is subtle and a bit cerebral.