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.