This past February, I spent the month reading books by and about people different from myself. I promised to continue reading and sharing about books I read which I particularly enjoyed. Well, this past week was a double whammy with WHITE CAT by Holly Black and YOUNG SAMURAI: THE WAY OF THE DRAGON by Chris Bradford.
Here are my mini reviews:
WHITE CAT by Holly Black
Imagine The Godfather as a contemporary YA with curse workers instead of mafia hit men. Add in an authentic teen boy, a plot full of twists, and a dark reflection on politics, family, and love. A slow beginning, but I became absorbed in Black's world and now I am completely hooked. Absolutely INCREDIBLE.
YOUNG SAMURAI: THE WAY OF THE DRAGON by Chris Bradford
The best way to describe the Young Samurai books is Harry Potter at Samurai School. I can just imagine teen boys (and girls!) salivating over these. Set in Japan in the early 17th century, THE WAY OF THE DRAGON had everything: Ninjas, poison darts, at least twenty different types of weapons, non-stop action, and surprising twists. However, Bradford also managed to throw in characters I really cared about, haiku, Japanese folktales, and all sorts of contemporary school issues, bullying, competitiveness, romance, all in a way that was believable and absorbing. I was a little thrown when the war started, as I had completely forgotten I was in historical times, but the book also has a serious edge about history, violence, and what it means to be a Samurai.
Both books have been stuck in my mind since finishing them. I have to wait breathlessly for Black's sequel, but luckily Chris Bradford's book is the third in the YOUNG SAMURAI series, so I can go back and the read the others before I tackle the final books (up to five are published, and I believe more are coming).
Also, while both books are by white authors, I found they presented an interesting contrast in the way they handled issues of diversity.
Cassel, the main character in WHITE CAT, is a person of color. However the world he lives in is wealthy and intellectual, and other characters are intent to pointedly ignore differences in race and culture. As a result, Cassel rarely mentions race.
In contrast, Jack, the main character in THE WAY OF THE DRAGON, is white and English, though everyone around him is Japanese. Because he is new to Japanese culture and attempting to make the country his home, he asks questions, and seeks to understand as much about the people and history as he can. The book contains a glossary of Japanese terms and a map of 17th century Japan. It's a time period in history I know little about, so I learned a ton, and relished being completely absorbed in this different world.
Also, I have to say, if you ever get a chance to see Chris Bradford at an author's event, go! I had to get his book after he showed at the Bath Kids' Literature Festival in full ninja costume with a sword he clearly knew how to use! Here he is in a trailer for the fourth YOUNG SAMURAI book: