Mona Lisa Starkey had always been good at finding shortcuts. But when she accidentally walked from Albuquerque to New York City in an afternoon, she attracted the attention of the Solstice Academy, a special school for children who can do things they shouldn't be able to.
During her first year at the academy she finds adventure, friendship, romance, and betrayal, in the most unexpected of places.
Mona Lisa Starkey had always been good at finding shortcuts. Her school was fifteen minutes away from her house, but she could head out the door at 7:55 and run, panting, into her first classroom at eight. When strolling through the mall with friends, she’d often lose track of them, only to have them show up several minutes later, wondering how she’d gotten so far so fast.
On a Wednesday in the middle of May, Mona Lisa Starkey (who preferred to be called “Lisa”, since she hated the name “Mona”) set out to find her dad a birthday present. Mom was being mom, as usual, which meant that Lisa wasn’t talking to her and also meant that Lisa was on her own to do her shopping, and would have to walk wherever she was going instead of driving with her mom in the car. She knew what she wanted, however, and had a vague idea of where to find it. Dad liked Chinese chess, the one with the cannons and the elephants, and he didn’t like “normal” chess, the one with the bishops and the towers. Lisa had seen a very nice Chinese chess set, with little carved elephants and cannons instead of the usual boring disks with the Chinese letters for “elephant” and “cannon” on them, in a magazine. In the picture two old men were playing it in New York, in Chinatown, and although Lisa felt fairly certain that Albuquerque didn’t have a Chinatown like New York’s, it might at least have something vaguely similar. She put on her comfy sneakers, her headphones, and her hair band, and she took off her glasses (which she always did whenever she went outside, just in case someone might think she looked like a nerd) and started walking.
Lisa’s house was off to one side of a part of town with a lot of other houses, but there were shops and gas stations and fast-food restaurants nearby, so it wasn’t long before she was out of her neighborhood and into something that looked a little more like what she was after. It certainly wasn’t a Chinatown, and it certainly wasn’t New York, but it also wasn’t houses, and the further she walked the bigger the buildings got. She continued walking, and the buildings grew, looking older as she went, and stucco walls were replaced by old brown bricks and the spaces between the buildings grew thinner and the spaces between the roofs and the sky became tighter. Eventually, Lisa found herself at a big red square arch. An ornate sign at the top of the arch announced both in English and in Chinese that this was Chinatown, and Lisa was surprised to discover that apparently Albuquerque did have one after all. She strolled through, past restaurant windows where barbecued ducks hung on hooks, past fantastic-smelling incense stands, bookstores, convenience stores, and a dozen other stores all crammed together in the street, until she found, remarkably quickly, just what she was looking for.