Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heart of a Samurai

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.
In 1841, Manjiro and his fellow Japanese fishing companions are tossed by a storm and end up on a deserted island, where they are eventually rescued by and American whaling vessel. The companions are dropped off in what is to become Hawaii, but Manjiro, who becomes known as John Mung, decides to stay with the captain, who has thought of him as a son. After more time at sea, Manjiro ends up in New England with the captain's new wife and baby, is apprenticed to a barrel maker, and finally decides to go back to sea. When he is finally able to return to Japan, his skill at speaking English makes him crucial in negotiations to open Japan's ports, and although he started out as a poor fisherman, he is given a rank of a low level samurai.

Strengths: Well-paced, interesting story. The research provides pictures that Manjiro himself drew and depicts a time and situation that I have not seen before in young adult fiction. The action, and the word "samurai" will insure this title is read.

Weaknesses: Drags in a couple of spots, but in general, moves along from situation to situation.

Roy, Jennifer. Mindblind.
Nathaniel is very bright but socially awkward, the result of having Asperger's Syndrome. He has finished grade school by the age of 14, and is trying to establish himself as extremely gifted in order to get into the Aldus Institute. One way he tries is to write songs with Jessa, on whom he also has a crush. A party that his harsh and unaccepting father lets him attends results in Nathaniel getting very drunk, which steals his resolve to change his life. Details of how Nathaniel's mind works (he accesses memories as data files) add some insight, and his struggles with "getting the girl" will ring true to neurotypicals as well as those with Asperger's.

Strengths: Nathaniel is a fully developed character, and this is a good addition to the growing collection of books about this syndrome which include The London Eye Mystery, Anything But Typical, Harmonic Feedback and The Half-life of Planets.

Weaknesses: The plot was fairly slow paced and unexciting, making this better suited for high school students.

Also looked at The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; I must have been reading reviews but have no idea why I picked this up, since it is an excruciatingly slow adult novel more concerned with feelings. Love the title, as well as the other one by Aimee Bender mentioned on the cover: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.

And speaking of reviews, why does this description of an unnamed, purportedly YA book make me uncomfortable just thinking about it? Really, I can't see having this in the library: "Fourteen-year-old (boy) is sent into an institutional care system after his single mother dies of a heroin overdose, where he endures harsh punishment and sexual abuse, and witnesses horrors on a daily basis before finally emerging, emotionally scarred but still alive."


Jim Randolph said...

Yeah, that unnamed novel sounds like one to avoid even if it's brilliant. I guess it's since I had a kid, but I no longer go for overly-depressing stuff even if it's well-reviewed. I think that started for me with the Mystic River film. Ugh.

Madelyn said...

Haven't read P Sadness of Lemoncake yet, but I think it just got an Alex award -- maybe that's why it was on your radar. I think Heart of a Samurai sounds great for my son. Thanks.

Gina said...

I really enjoyed Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - read it all in about 2 days. It is largely a book about feelings, but there's also a mystery component which kept me reading.

Beth said...

Hey, Didn't Heart of a Samurai win some kind of award recently?

I was on a YA list once, and so many of the books fit in the genre of "unremitting misery and extraordinary pain" that I burned out.

Katie said...

Huh... I have to say, I probably wouldn't give Heart of a Samurai a second thought if it wasn't a Newbery Honor book. Nothing about it sounds particularly appealing to me. On the other hand, I had had about zero interest in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but I recently read it and fell in LOVE. Those Newbery pickers sure know what they're doing! I might have to give "Samuarai" a chance after all :)

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