Debut novelist Gratz uses baseball to tell the story of Japan's tumultuous transition from 19th-century feudalism to 20th-century Westernized society. In the harrowing first chapter, 15-year-old Toyo witnesses his uncle commit seppuku ritual suicide rather than renounce his samurai lifestyle as the emperor has ordered. As required by custom, Toyo's father decapitates his brother, and Toyo must watch because, his father says, "Soon you will do the same for me." Toyo then begins life at Ichiko, Tokyo's most elite boarding school, haunted by the image of his father tossing his uncle's head onto the funeral pyre. The violence soon becomes more personal, as Ichiko's upper classmen conduct vicious hazing rituals to keep the first-years in line. His father arrives daily to instruct Toyo in bushido the "samurai code" which includes sword-fighting but also meditation and flower arranging. Toyo channels these skills into his passion for a new sport introduced by American gaijin besuboru. Into this well-researched period piece, Gratz drops a few anachronistic sports cliches, climaxing with a Big Game against a team of Americans. Though Toyo finds a way to use the samurai values his father has taught him, his leadership skills don't develop enough for him to protest or withdraw from aiding the enforcement of a brutal punishment against a boy who has strayed from Ichiko's harsh rules, undermining the sympathy readers may have developed for him. Still, this is an intense read about a fascinating time and place in world history. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Set in Tokyo in 1890, the book opens with the very detailed description of Toyo Shimada witnessing his uncle commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide where one disembowels himself). The threat of his father taking the same action hangs over the story, so this is not for the feint of heart. Japan is in conflict; those who followed the traditional samurai way of life have been prohibited from practicing their culture. The word is modernization and moving forward. As he begins his life at a prestigious private school whose mission is to educate the country's future leaders, Toyo must live with his father's ties to the ancient traditions and his uncertainty about what is "the right way." His life as a baseball player becomes an important part of his education, both in terms of how to get along with others and how to move forward and yet hold on to the important principles of the past. 2006, Dial Books, Ages 10 to 14.
Filled with mixed emotions, Toyo joins the other new students at his boarding school. He is happy to be far away from his family following the suicide of his Uncle Koji, who was one of the last of the samurai. Suicide was Koji's way of defying the disbanding of the samurai. Toyo is relieved to be far away from the memories of Koji's death. There are rumors, however, about what is in store for the new students at Ichiko Academy at the hands of the upperclassmen. To make matters worse, at first Toyo is not permitted to play on the Ichiko baseball team despite his talent. Nevertheless Toyo proves himself worthy of a place on the team, where his training in bushido-the way of the warrior samurai-will help both Toyo and his teammates become better players and better men. Although Toyo and his teammates are playing baseball at the turn of the last century in Japan, there is much in this novel that will speak to teens today. Toyo applies the rules of bushido to help his teammates function as one unit, a team. He must endure hazing from older students, and his father disapproves of his passion for baseball. Certainly these elements plus the play-by-play action from some of the games will delight readers who love this sport. Baseball and bushido both serve as apt metaphors for the struggles that many young adults face as they come to understand more about themselves and about their heritage. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Dial, 288p.; Biblio., Ages 11 to 15.
Teri S. Lesesne
Gr 7 Up-Toyo Shimada, 15, watches his beloved uncle, Koji, commit seppuku (hara-kiri) the day before he begins his first year of boarding school. This act sets into motion a story that is firmly grounded in the transition between traditions and modern values in Japan, a place where samurai are no more and where, according to Toyo's father, Western influences are eroding Japan's cultural heritage. Harsh and sometimes brutal incidents in Toyo's school echo the larger upheaval and confusion in Japan as the people struggle with blending their beliefs with disparate Western tenets. One place where they mesh is in baseball. Toyo sees the ancient warrior art of bushido implicit in baseball and works on convincing his teammates that in order to win the game, they must first learn to balance individual accomplishments with teamwork. Actor Arthur Morey hits a home run with his narration of Alan Gratz's debut novel (Dial Books, 2006). Although he doesn't differentiate much between characters, his Japanese pronunciation is believable and he manages to convey both solemnity and thoughtfulness in his telling. Japanese terms sprinkled throughout are either defined or easily discerned from context. A wonderful addition to public and school library collections.-Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Commodore Perry sailed into Yokohama harbor in 1853, and only a few years later, in 1870, baseball was introduced into Japan, along with many other Western influences. Out of this clash of cultures comes this story of 16-year-old Toyo, making his way in an elite boarding school, trying to get over the ritual suicide of his old samurai Uncle Koji, fearing his father may be next and eventually seeing baseball as a way to meld East and West, traditional samurai values and the game of "besuboru." Debut novelist Gratz covers much ground in this baseball story that's really about the transition of Japan from a feudal society to a westernized industrial power. The graphic opening chapter makes this for older readers, who will find it an unusual take on the American (and Japanese) pastime. (author's notes, bibliography) (Fiction. 14+)