Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Manga is one the most popular genres at Lakeside, taking up most of the spaces on the monthly top ten checkout list.  I have read about the role manga can play as a “gateway read”- that it can get reluctant readers to develop a lifelong love of reading more traditional text; although I have rarely seen it in action.  

In my experience, manga readers usually just stick to manga. With Gadget Girl, I think I may have found a book that may truly serve as a gateway to move manga readers towards more traditional novels!

Gadget Girl is a realistic fiction novel about 14 year old Japanese American named Aiko, who has cerebral palsy. Because of her condition, Aiko is socially awkward and feels that she will never catch the eye of the boys.  She lives with her mother, a sculptor, who travels around putting her art  in galleries to make ends meet. Her father has long ago returned to Japan to work as an indigo farmer and is no longer in the picture.  

The novel opens with Aiko’s uncomfortable realization that her cerebral palsy has led to her mother’s fame-she is the muse for her mother’s most famous sculptures.  Aiko responds to this realization by distancing herself from her mother and her artwork.  Not surprisingly, Aiko’s mother’s announcement that she has been invited to show her work in Paris, is met with a less than enthusiastic response.   

About the time Aiko learns of her mother’s latest art show, she starts to carve out her own identity by drawing a series of manga novels called Gadget Girl. These novels, which are distributed by her friends, help her to develop an anonymous following on the internet of her own and shape her own identity in real time.  The main character of the novels Gadget Girl is Aiko’s alter ego: self confident, nimble, easily capturing the interest of boys.  While in Paris, she also draws the attention of a young French waiter who shares her interest in manga.
Among Gadget Girl’s other selling points are that the work weaves in a strong element of reconciliation as Aiko seeks to reconnect with her father in Japan and to redefine her relationship with her mother and her art.  
With its likeable, unique heroine, coming of age elements including a believable romance and the possibility of a sequel, Gadget Girl may just be the book to encourage our manga readers to make the jump to more traditional text(s)!  Our fans of more traditional text will enjoy the novel’s insights into the manga genre as well.    Some brief mild language and romance.  Highly recommended for middle school readers and up.
Review of Prisoner 88 by Leah Pilleagi

They always say don’t judge a book by its cover!  That definitely applies in this case.  Prisoner 88 is a wonderful historical fiction novel set in the late 1880’s in Idaho.  The novel is based on the experiences of a real ten year old inmate who served time in the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary.  It follows the incarceration of Jake Oliver Evans before the advent of juvenile detention facilities.  He is a ten year old who witnesses his father scuffling with another man in a saloon and attempts to come to his father’s aid by shooting at the other man.  His actions on his dad’s behalf land him in adult prison with a five year term for attempted murder.  

Once he is there, he immediately becomes a target for the other prisoner’s since he is much physically smaller as well as being by far the youngest prisoner in the entire Idaho prison system.  Inspite of these circumstances, Jake turns his incarceration into a positive experience.  He arrives at the prison illiterate and unskilled.  Through a series of tutors both good and bad, he learns how to read and write.  Jake also learns how to raise pigs as a part of his work detail. Prisoner 88 starts out as a gritty story of prison life and ends by showing how through determination tough circumstances can be overcome and turned into a positive.  

The one knock on this book is its cover.  I originally picked up a copy of Pileaggi’s novel at my local public library and was surprised to see it emblazoned with a young adult sticker.  It does not have the “flashy” cover of most current YA novels.  Content wise, the YA label certain fits as there are incidents of hazing and prison violence as well as some mild language.

I would highly recommend this book for lower level middle, junior high and high school readers.  Readers will enjoy meeting the likable Jake and the short chapters make it a quick read.  This novel would also appeal to our upper level students who are new to learning English, as it is a key part of Jake’s personal journey in this novel.
Highly recommended for middle grades and above.  
This past year, I embarked on a literary journey to read about topics that I have a difficult time understanding.  My goal has been to improve understanding of individuals in these situations.  One of the topics I have focused on has been genocide which lead me to Patricia McCormick’s brilliant novel, Never Fall Down.
 Never Fall Down tells the tale of Arn, a Cambodian boy who grows up in that country during the 1970’s.   As the story opens, he is living a typical teenage existence, enjoying the sunshine and the possibilities of life, eating ice cream, and playing games with his friends. 
His life suddenly changes for the worse as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge take over the country exterminating people it perceives as lacking in worth in its vision of society.  Arn lives in a labor camp where daily people disappear never to be heard from again. 
One day, a soldier inquires if anyone in the camp can play an instrument and Arn volunteers.  He plays revolutionary songs and fights for the Khmer Rouge army in a war he never truly understands. Music allows him to cope and ultimately leads to his deliverance. 

The sights, sounds and smells of this novel are visceral and disturbing.  Did I enjoy reading Never Fall Down?  I can say that I did not-it was a difficult read; while at the same time being a very valuable one.  It peels back the layers of living through a genocide to explore the utter tragedy and triumph of the human spirit.