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"Originally a novella published in the magazine Cicada and the winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in Fiction, Kamata’s latest is a sharp, unusual coming-of-age novel.
For Aiko Cassidy, it’s hard enough sitting at the “invisible” table and dealing with trespassing geeks. It’s harder when her cerebral palsy makes guys notice her in all the wrong ways. Even worse, Aiko’s mother, Laina, uses her as a model for her sculptures. For privacy, Aiko conceals herself in manga; her alter ego, Gadget Girl, can rescue cute guys and tie her shoes. Aiko dreams of traveling to Japan to meet her favorite artists—and, perhaps, her father. When a sculpture of Aiko wins her and Laina a trip to Paris instead, Aiko meets handsome Hervé and discovers a startling view of her family. Kamata writes the intricacies of cerebral palsy—the little maneuvers of cooking, the jerk of an arm betraying emotion—as deftly as Aiko draws or Laina sculpts. Aiko’s awkwardness is palpable, as are her giddy crush and snarky observations. Some points remain realistically unresolved, in keeping with the garden metaphors throughout the book: “You’re not supposed to be able to see the whole thing at once. Most Japanese gardens are revealed little by little....”
Awkwardly and believably, this sensitive novel reveals an artistic teen adapting to family, disability and friendships in all their flawed beauty." —Kirkus
"Suzanne Kamata has created a memorable character in Aiko, a unique girl balancing the desire to be ordinary and extraordinary. Though she's dealing with some difficult obstacles in her life, her desire is particularly relevant and universal to the adolescent experience. An absorbing tale about adversity, art, love, and the courage to accept one's self and others. A pleasure to read!"
-Veera Hiranandani, author of The Whole Story of Half a Girl
"Spunky heroine with big dreams? Check! Trip to Paris? Check! Hot French waiter? Check! Gadget Girl has everything a reader like me could wish for, and more. I love this story."
-Tamara Ireland Stone, author of Time Between Us
"Suzanne Kamata beautifully captures the essence of what it feels like when you're learning to be who you already are."
-Andrea J. Buchanan, author of the multimedia YA title Gift and co-author, The Daring Book for Girls
"Anyone who has ever longed to come into their own will love Gadget Girl."
-Leza Lowitz, author of Jet Black and The Ninja Wind
Posted October 11, 2013
In GADGET GIRL: THE ART OF BEING INVISIBLE Suzanne Kamata skillfully spans three continents and cultures--Japan, United States (Michigan), France--as the main character goes on a search for her identity, the truth about father, and a quest for love, great food and manga. It's rare that I read a book where there are so many likable realistic characters, yet the plot is so compelling that I was willing to walk in Aiko Cassidy's sensible shoes (she has cerebral palsy) and let her take me anywhere on her adventure. And O la la, what an adventure in Paris and Lourdes!
I can't say enough good things about this literary muli-cultural story. But I don't want to give away any spoilers.
Posted September 3, 2013
I don't normally read books aimed at the younger YA audience, but while we were at the library my one year old picked this off the shelf and wouldn't be parted with it. I can't blame her; that's one lovely cover. Yes, I know, don't judge a book by its cover, and all that. But we all do now and then, so I might as well own up. At any rate, I read the synopsis and while I'm not a fan of whirlwind romances in Paris (seriously? at fourteen?), I decided to give this novel a shot--because not only do I like to read books with a multicultural aspect, but this book also features a heroine with a disability, which is far too unusual to pass up.
Aiko has a lot to contend with in this novel. Cerebral palsy has left her with a serious limp and her left hand curled into "a claw." She lives with her mother, a sculptor, who uses Aiko as her muse--something Aiko has mixed feelings about. Further, Aiko's father purportedly knows nothing of her existence, and she wants nothing more than to meet him and make him proud. He's an indigo farmer in Japan, so throughout the story we hear about Aiko's attempt to nurture a single indigo plant in their home in Michigan. These storylines: her disability, her relationship with her mother and her mother's art, and her missing father, develop over the course of the story, taking turns, making leaps, and--eventually--bringing Aiko to a single, cathartic moment. This is the meat of the story, so to speak, and I was profoundly impressed at the depth of the storylines, and with Aiko's final development at the end (especially because I had my doubts along the way).
Aiko is also a manga artist, though her stories sounded...superficial at best. They so very clearly reflected herself and the people around her, as well as her own pent up desires, it made me wonder if she really had much of an imagination. Per her descriptions, until her trip to Paris, they all had essentially the same storyline of Gadget Girl saving her crush from some dangerous situation. I don't think Kamata intended for Aiko's art to sound so shallow, but as a writer myself, I was surprised that Kamata didn't endow Aiko with an ability to imagine more for her characters to begin with. That said, following Aiko's trip to Paris...Gadget Girl develops slightly, though it is still very grounded in real people and experiences. I kind of wanted to see Aiko's work take off, unfettered by her tendency to tie her characters and their stories to real people. But that's just me.
I found myself grinding my teeth at Aiko's actions a few times, from some of the things she says to her mother, to her tendency to sound whiny. She was also a bit--naive? Her obsession with going to Lourdes to see if she could be healed struck me as strange as best. I understood what it represented, but I didn't quite believe it for Aiko. So, between Lourdes and her regularly childish behavior, I began to wonder if she could redeem herself by the end of the story--but, in fact, she does. I chalk my frustration up to not normally reading books aimed at the younger spectrum of YA; no doubt, this is very well-suited to her age and traditional readership.
I loved the more complex understanding she developed of her relationship with both her mother and father. I was a bit taken aback by her mother's choice to share the truth about Aiko's father on Aiko's birthday--as a mother, I went, what? If you think your daughter's old enough, then let her celebrate her birthday one day, and tell her the next. But I guess it was more dramatic this way. How Aiko handled this information over the next few weeks was both realistic and telling of her development over the course of the novel, and wonderfully done.
By far my favorite character was Raoul, Aiko's mother's boyfriend: radio DJ of international music, gourmet cook, and a man both caring and sensitive. I looked forward to his scenes, and was sorry he didn't feature more. While I liked Aiko, I felt somewhat emotionally distant from her, and was not as engaged as I would have liked. Again, this may have to do with her slightly younger age. I expect young readers will connect more easily (especially over Aiko's crushing on boys!).
Overall, an engaging and quick read with a lot packed in.
Posted May 20, 2013
I knew I would love Gadget Girl from the first page, when the novel’s protagonist and narrator, fourteen-year-old Aiko, tells us she’s named after the indigo plants her father harvests to make blue dye. Aiko has never met her father, who lives on the Japanese island of Shizuko, but she knows all about the indigo plants his family farms, and she’s even trying (not very successfully) to grow her own indigo in Michigan. The loving, careful detail with which Aiko describes the indigo, and its ability to dye fabric “the color of a storm-bruised sky” as well as to possibly cure sicknesses, told me Gadget Girl would be a book rich in culture. And it was, featuring a setting spanning Europe and the U.S., many eclectic details of the art world, and Aiko’s love for modern Japanese culture and her desire to reconnect with that part of her heritage.
Aiko was born with cerebral palsy, meaning her left arm and leg don’t always work correctly. She deals with her feelings about her illness, as well as other aspects of her life, in the manga she writes called “Gadget Girl,” which features a very nimble-figured heroine who always saves the day. In real life, Aiko is frustrated by her disability, by her mother’s artwork, much of which is actually inspired by Aiko and her illness, and by the fact that her father doesn’t know about her. She dreams of one day going to Japan to connect with her father and perhaps apprentice with a manga artist. However, when her mother wins a Paris art competition, Aiko ends up spending the summer in Frances instead of Japan…
For some reason, I tend to get really tired of books set in Paris, so I was really happy to find that Gadget Girl took a more eclectic approach to the city than most novels I’ve read. My favorite part was the description of a Japanese-inspired garden designed by Isamu Noguchi, which made me want to visit Paris more than countless depictions of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower ever have! I was also fascinated by Aiko’s trip to Lourdes, a place known for its sacred healing waters.
However, Aiko’s trip is most important not for the places she goes, but for the people she meets and the truths she learns about her own family…I won’t say too much about that, only that certain moments of the book really made me emotional, and that I loved the way the author tied everything together in the end.
Gadget Girl is told in the realistic voice of a fourteen to fifteen-year-old girl, which means that, in a publishing climate where the YA voice keeps getting older and older, this voice is definitely on the younger side of YA, and could be characterized as middle-grade as well. I think middle and high-school readers would really, really respond to this book, and I hope it gets into as many hands as possible. And it’s also sure to please many adult readers, including myself!