Another Starred Review for Samurai

>> Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I got home from my six-day journey to the high country of North Carolina to learn that Samurai has received two more raves--one from my hometown alt.weekly MetroPulse, and the other a starred review from the Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books. It's my favorite review yet!

Toyo begins his secondary schooling in 1890 at the elite boarding school Ichiko shortly after the Japanese emperor has decreed all countrymen to be commoners, doing away with the samurai class. His uncle has been permitted to commit seppuku after a failed uprising, and his father, a conservative journalist, wishes to do the same. While Toyo struggles with adapting to the new school and brutal upperclass hazing, his father trains him daily in the samurai code of bushido so that Toyo can eventually assist in his ritual suicide. What the young man draws from these lessons, though, is an appreciation of the same balance between warrior's heart and scholar's mind that Ichiko holds to be the path for Japan's future in a rapidly modernizing world. Toyo applies his insights to besuboru-baseball-instructing his team members in the rigors of bushido physical training and demonstrating the advantages of team coordination over individual skill. When the baseball team commits a faux pas that turns into a diplomatic incident involving the American consulate, Toyo suggests that the breach might be healed through a baseball game-Americans vs. the Ichiko nine. But the question of whether it is more noble to throw the game in deference to the affronted Americans or to play their best against a worthy rival challenges the team to think beyond sport and sportsmanship to the broader implications of their decision. Debut novelist Gratz adroitly balances a provocative exploration of honor with the excitement of a full count, bases loaded baseball book. Ritualized school brutality and even the graphic opening depiction of seppuku are clearly portrayed as harsh but valued components of a culture that places a high premium on social cohesion. Fast moving, culturally respectful, and flat-out engrossing, this should lead off the next booktalk on sports or historical fiction.
Thanks to the reviewer for such a sterling review! A former librarian/current children's writer friend of mine tells me that the BCCB is on par with the Horn Book in terms of influence, and that a starred review from them is big news. I'm honored! (And flattered!)

The review from MetroPulse was great, too. It's too long to quote in its entirety, but here's a good bit:

A distinct pleasure of Samurai Shortstop is the clarity of its prose and the accuracy of its setting. Gratz has done his homework, capturing the political and social concerns of the times, depicting Japanese samurai warrior conduct (bushido), and describing the harsh realities of Japanese boarding school life of the period. Moreover, Gratz incorporates occasional historical events and figures into the narrative, thereby lending the story further verisimilitude.
I was especially pleased to have someone note the prose style, which I've worked a long time to develop. It's a writer thing.

You can read the entire MetroPulse review here. Sorry--the BCCB review is a sub service, so no link. You'll just have to take my word for it. (You're so distrustful.)


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