Bookworm's Ranking - 2 Worms
Storyline - Book 1 - In 1611, Jack Fletcher is on a voyage with his father to find the Japanese and trade with them. But when ninja assassins attack the wounded ship, everyone on board is killed except Jack who is rescued by a Japanese family and then adopted by a samurai. Not understanding the language or customs is difficult but, as he is learning, Jack also starts to pick up the bokken (a wooden version of the katana) and gets attacked again by the ninja who killed his father. Eventually, he is take to a samurai school to learn the Way of the Warrior. As he's there, he has to over come people who resent him because he is not Japanese, learns Bushido, and must defend the school's honor.
Author - Chris Bradford
Publisher - Disney Press
Age Group - 12 or 13 and up
Content - There were so many honorable lessons in this book (one of them being honor). The students would talk to the teachers and learn from them and one of the teachers, Sensei Yamada, was shown to be wise and very helpful (he had the best advise). This Sensei also told Jack not to seek revenge and that one day the ninja who killed his father would pay for what he's done, even if it has to be in the next life. Forgiveness was a big thing among the Japanese and apologies were seen as taking responsibility for ones actions. A student told the truth once to help Jack when he got in trouble because of another student, putting himself in trouble with the bully as well. Another student told the truth to give Jack a honor that he was going to give up to help him. Bushido, or Way of the Warrior, is very interesting. It consists of rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor, and loyalty (I took this right out of the book but can't remember the page number). These are all good things to have and support and, if everyone did them, I think our world would be a better place. The book also showed that girls are tough and gave a good example of a strong girl who was also a samurai (did anyone else know girls could be samurai back then?). Unfortunately for all the good things in this book, it was very tit-for-tat with negative behavior or happenings. A fellow student of Jack's constantly picked on him so when the bully got in trouble, Jack and his friends enjoyed his predicament. One of the characters you are supposed to like gets drunk once, even though he knows not to. God's name was used in vain once (if I remember correctly) and Jack told someone to go to h***. Jack also lied a couple times to keep something safe and to help out a friend. A friend tried to kill himself but Jack saves him and talks some sense into him. Some things that might make others uncomfortable but I saw more as historical stuff that was a lot of killing, the mention of ritual suicide, and Buddha was mentioned on occasion (there was a hall called Buddha Hall and a monk said "even Buddha will wait"). But, my biggest problem with the book was that it painted the Catholic faith in a bad light. I found it very insulting how it was depicted and, if the author tried at all to redeem the look he gave it, it didn't even become lukewarm. More details about this in the 'Personal Opinion' section because this is getting a little long.
Personal Opinion - I would have really enjoyed this book if not for my faith being put in such a bad light which kind of ruined it for me. First, a sailor called a Jesuit a devil and someone said that the Catholics could have "poisoned the minds of" the native Japanese so then, since the sailors were Protestant, they might be killed for being heretics. When Jack meets a priest, he is very insulting to Jack because he is a Protestant and English (the priest was Portuguese. There was some sort of conflict between the two countries at the time I guess). The priest was made out to be not a very great character and kept you second guessing what the man's motives were as he started being kind to Jack. Also, when the priest kissed a cross once, it was called a talisman. Now, there have been Catholics who have made mistakes because we are still human and, also, hostility between Portuguese and English and Protestants and Catholics might have been true during that time period, but it being the only example of Catholics is insulting and misleading. Not all Catholics are like that and it's not fair how that is how they are portrayed. The book showed even two sides of the samurai and the Japanese people but didn't even give Catholics a fighting chance. It is unfortunate how my faith was depicted because Chris Bradford is a good writer. He kept the story going well without losing any details but it didn't drag either. The 'Pronunciation Guide' in the back was very helpful in understanding Japanese words and one of the best I had ever used (in fact I learned a few with the book and I now how to speak Japanese a little. Whether I pronounce them right is another matter. A little interested in learning that language now but that is besides the point). The characters are diverse and interesting, too. You can understand how they feel and could identify with them. But, because of how my faith was shown in the book, it's because of this, and this alone, that will probably keep me from reading the rest of the books in this series. And keep me from recommending it. I could have over looked everything else, but this.
Links - Learn more about the books and author at: http://www.youngsamurai.com/ .
Awards - On the author's web site it says the series is an award winner but I can't find exactly what awards they have won.
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