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Gr. 8-11. Growing up in Tokyo in the 1890s, after the emperor outlawed the samurai tradition of his ancestors, Toyo was not trained in the old disciplines. He must find his own path between the old ways and the new ones, which are symbolized for Toyo by the sport he loves: baseball. In the riveting opening scene, Toyo watches his father help Toyo's beloved uncle Koji perform suppuku, a samurai ritual involving disembowelment and decapitation. Soon after this disturbing event, Toyo becomes a boarder at the most esteemed high school in Tokyo. His high hopes are tempered by a brutal hazing inflicted on the entering class, and the ongoing cruelty of the students in power. Under his father's tutelage, Toyo's growing understanding of traditional samurai arts enables him to grow in skill and self-discipline both on and off the playing field. An engaging protagonist in a harsh, difficult situation, Toyo must work to earn the respect of his father and his teammates, but he will have readers' sympathies from the beginning. Unfolding through the convincing portrayals of individuals in turmoil, the story culminates as most baseball novels do--in the big game. An appended author's note discusses Gratz's research and lists his sources. A memorable chronicle of boys' inhumanity to boys, and a testament to enduring values in a time of social change. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2006 Booklist
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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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal
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Gr 7 Up-It is 1890, and 16-year-old Toyo Shimada is uniquely poised to witness the clash of old and new ways in his native Tokyo. Emperor Meiji has instituted a series of radical reforms; one of them requires that all samurai hang up their swords. In the hypnotic opening scene, Toyo and his father assist as his Uncle Koji commits ritual suicide or seppuku. Toyo's father, Sotaro, is a scholarly samurai whose weapon has always been his ink brush, but he too has decided that he cannot live in this new Japan. He tells Toyo that once he has taught him the ways of bushido, or the warrior's code, he, too, will take his own life. Meanwhile, Toyo begins his studies at an elite high school where the hazing by the senior students makes the first-year students miserable. Eventually, the teen and his friends are able to stand up for themselves, and Toyo wins a place on the school's besuboro or baseball team. His lessons in bushido include meditation, balance, and swordplay, and Toyo finds in baseball a way to make the connection between "both modern and ancient, mental and physical." Gratz's concluding notes offer more on the period as well as sources for more information. This well-written tale offers plenty of fascinating detail, a fast-paced story, and a fresh perspective on "America's pastime." It should delight baseball fans and win a wide audience.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.