Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit

by Jesse Q Sutanto (Author)

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

After inheriting a grieving fox spirit, a Chinese American boy must learn to embrace his heritage to solve the mystery of his brother's death in Jesse Q Sutanto's magical, action-packed middle grade fantasy, Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit.

Theo Tan doesn't want a spirit companion. He just wants to be a normal American kid, playing video games, going to conventions, and using cirth pendants to cast his spells like everyone else. But, when his older brother dies, Theo ends up inheriting Jamie's fox spirit, Kai. Kai isn't happy about this either. Theo is nothing like Jamie, and the two of them have never gotten along. But, when they realize the mysterious journal Jamie left Theo is filled with clues and secret codes, it's clear that something strange was going on with Jamie's internship at Reapling Corp. But the only way onto the campus is the highly competitive Know Your Roots summer camp program, a celebration of Chinese and Indian cultures designed to help connect students with their heritage. Theo and Kai will have to put aside their differences long enough to honor Jamie's last wishes, or the mystery he died for will remain unsolved forever...


Sutanto blends Chinese culture and history to build a world of dragons, demons, spell casting, and code breaking.... This is a natural choice for kids who like Rick Riordan's brand of mythology-fueled fantasy adventures, and it will be an especially good read-alike for Laurence Yep's classic Tiger's Apprentice series. 

School Library Journal

Gr 4-7--Twelve-year-old Theo is crushed when his beloved older brother, Jamie, suddenly dies in a tragic accident. To make matters worse, the spirit companion summoned for him shortly afterward turns out to be Kai, the duplicitous, self-important fox spirit who was formerly Jamie's companion. Soon Theo discovers clues from Jamie suggesting something's not quite right at Reapling Corp, the company where Jamie was interning when he died (Reapling has monetized magical energy; think of them as the Google or Apple of spellcasting). To investigate, Theo will have to earn a spot in Reapling's competitive summer program by leaning in to his Chinese-American heritage and relying on some help and trickery from Kai. This action-packed fantasy should have wide appeal. Sutanto creates a sense of urgency from the first page, when Theo is dragged out of bed to a meat locker in Chinatown for a sketchy conversation with Jamie just before he dies. Alternating viewpoints between Theo and Kai fully flesh out the characters' overlapping (and sometimes deviating) desires. Moments of comic relief are scattered throughout, as when Theo's spells go awry due to his mispronunciation of Mandarin. And though Theo's story largely relies on Chinese gods and monsters, Sutanto deftly weaves in reminders that this is only one of a great many distinct cultures in Asia. VERDICT A welcome addition to fantasy shelves, hand this off to readers who can't get enough of "Percy Jackson" or the Rick Riordan Presents series.--Lindsay Loup

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Twelve-year-old Theo Tan and his two-tailed shape-shifting fox spirit companion Kai must work together to solve the mystery of his brother's death in Sutanto's (The New Girl) Chinese-mythology-rich middle grade debut. In a futuristic San Francisco in which expensive cirth magic, which is bought and stockpiled in pendants, dominates daily life, Theo "hate that I'm a Chinese American kid who lives in Chinatown." He isn't like his hardworking, proudly Chinese American older brother Jamie, who's a cultural outreach intern at Reapling Corp., the U.S.'s largest cirth supplier. After Jamie dies in a car accident, Theo inherits his brother's acerbic spirit companion, Kai, with whom Theo's never gotten along. When they uncover Jamie's coded notebook, which implicates Reapling in his death, the pair reluctantly work together to solve the mystery by infiltrating the company via its prestigious cultural outreach summer program. In Theo and Kai's alternating perspectives, Sutanto weaves the duo's shared grief and path to healing with Theo's journey toward embracing his Chinese heritage in this rewarding fantasy adventure. Ages 8-12. Agent: Katelyn Detweiler, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (May)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Heart-felt and heart-pounding, this book will have you cheering Theo on as he sets out to find the magic of his heritage! (Both figurative and literal!)" — Xiran Jay Zhao, author of the #1 NYT Bestseller Iron Widow

"Brimming with imagination, heart, and delicious humor, Theo Tan is utterly unputdownable. It deals with serious and meaningful lessons like overcoming grief and rediscovering one's roots, but ultimately, it's a story about how magic lives in all of us - if we only let it shine. A total must-read! (Also, if anyone has contacts for summoning a fox spirit companion, hook me up...)" — Graci Kim, author of The Last Fallen Star

"A page-turning story about a magical and daring quest full of sparkling humor! I especially loved Theo's sarcastic and funny fox spirit companion who isn't thrilled to be paired with Theo, but along the way, the two learn that teamwork is necessary to defeat evil. I was rooting for a reluctant Theo to connect to his Chinese heritage so that he could experience the full power of his magic!" — Debbi Michiko Florence, author of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai

"Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit is brimming with wonder, heart, adventure, and enchantment. I couldn't put it down! Theo's journey of self-discovery is full of spirit, hope, and important lessons for us all. Sutanto's unique magic system blends enchantment with modern technology, creating a fresh and vibrant version of our world that you'll never want to leave. This is middle grade fantasy at its finest." —Alex Aster, award-winning author of the Emblem Island series 

"Kai, the wily fox spirit, is a star, all sass and blustery confidence covering up her shattered heart, bereft of her human companion. Her shapeshifting is a boon to their quest, and it carries them both as Theo slowly comes into his own as a smart, capable co-hero in their adventure." — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB) 

Jesse Q Sutanto
Jesse Q. Sutanto is the author of books for adults and young readers, including Dial A For Aunties, The Obsession, Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit and Well, That Was Unexpected. She grew up shuttling back and forth between Indonesia, Singapore, and England, and considers all three places her home. She has forty-two first cousins and thirty aunties and uncles, many of whom live just down the road. When she's not writing, she's playing games with her husband, or making a mess in the kitchen with her two daughters.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
May 20, 2022

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