Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Fourteen-year-old Manjiro dreams of the sea. Running away from home, he gets his chance by becoming a fisherman. During one of Manjiro’s fishing trips, his crew's boat is blown off-course by a horrific storm. The remaining crew wash up on a tiny, abandoned island. Even though the island is not too far away from Japan, the crew are destined for death. They know Japan has deadly rules to restrict anyone from reentering the country, including their own people. After several months struggling to survive, an American whaling ship discovers them. The crew is unsure if they should accept the American's help because associating with foreigners also means death. Seeing no other choice, Manjiro courageously chooses sanctuary on the American ship. Making that decision, sets Manjiro on an adventure of a lifetime.

Heart of a Samurai is based on the life of Manjiro Nakahama--the first Japanese person to go to America. Several of the illustrations showcasing Manjiro's adventures were actually drawn by him. This adds great validity to Preus's story, giving Manjiro even more life and depth to his character. Aside from this historical background, the way Preus delivers Manjiro's story is suspenseful, well-paced, and beautifully detailed. One weak point is the book's ending. It seems too quickly resolved where it sounds more like a history textbook than a carefully crafted novel. This causes some cracks in the story's solid foundation and dims some of the luster and life Preus had setup at the beginning. Otherwise, Heart of a Samurai is a great, instructive read for ages 12 and up. For fans of this book, Manjiro returns as a supporting character in Preus's new novel, The Bamboo Sword

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