Waiting on Wednesday–The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Holly Thompson’s Orchards was one of my favorite reads in 2011.  I loved the book, and it got me hooked on novels in free verse; previously, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.  Her latest release, The Language Inside, will be in stores 2013.  I can hardly wait!

 

 

A beautiful novel in verse that deals with post-tsunami Japan, Cambodian culture, and one girl’s search for identity and home.

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States, begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return early to Japan.

What are you waiting on?

Review: Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn

 

   Title: Tokyo Heist

   Author: Diana Renn

   Publisher:  Viking

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Violet loves reading manga and wearing scarves made from kimono fabric, so she’s thrilled that her father’s new painting commission means a summer trip to Japan. But what starts as an exotic vacation quickly turns into a dangerous treasure hunt.

Her father’s newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone’s lives are in danger — including Violet’s and her father’s.

Violet’s search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet’s not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery — before it’s too late.

Review:

Mysteries aren’t my favorite genre, but Tokyo Heist had me curious because of the setting.  Violet is a huge manga geek, which I could definitely relate to, and she gets to go globe-trotting – to Japan.  How could I not want to read that? 

Violet is resigned that she isn’t going to have the best summer.  Her mother is in Italy for work, and she’s going to be staying with her father.  To say that her father is distant is an understatement.  To say that he is distracted also falls far short of the mark.  Her father, a man she barely knows, is an artist, and a rather eccentric one at that.  When he’s in a creative frame of mind, there is no room for anything, or anyone, else. Not even his teenaged daughter.  While Violet understands that theirs is not the closest of relationships, she is shocked to discover that her father has never told his co-workers, or even his girlfriend, about her existence.  Ouch!

When Violet’s father takes a commission from a wealthy Japanese couple, Violet finds herself embroiled in a mystery.  Somebody has stolen some van Gogh drawings from the Yamada’s, and all fingers are pointing to Skye, her father’s girlfriend.  Determined to find the drawings, and collect the huge reward, Violet discovers that there is so much more at stake than the drawings.  Her father’s life is on the line.  A yakuza boss is demanding the return of a van Gogh painting based on the drawings, claiming that Tomonori Yamada had stolen it from him.  Tomonori committed suicide years before, but Violet is starting to suspect that it wasn’t a suicide after all.

Most of the appeal of this read for me is the location.  What I wouldn’t give for an all-expenses paid trip to Tokyo (and a ryokan in Kyoto).  Even with all of the related danger!  Traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun is a dream of mine, one that I have had for a long, long time.  I want to slurp noodles at a ramen shop, stuff myself with fresh sushi, and snack on Melty Kiss and limited edition Kit Kat bars.  Through Violet, I was able to see some of the highlights of Tokyo, all without the expensive plane ticket and hotel room.

I liked Violet.  I felt for her when her best friend and secret crush, Edge, started dating her former BFF.  Everything she did to try to make things better and repair her friendship with Edge only made matters worse.  Without the mystery to occupy her thoughts, Violet would have moped around all summer long.  Instead, she spent her vacation trying to outsmart gangsters, locate a missing masterpiece, and get her father to finally pay attention to her.  I felt bad for Violet.  She was desperate to have her father’s approval, but he was always far too busy with his art to give her even the time of day.  I didn’t think her mother was much better, though, because she hopped on a plane to Italy and left her with her father, hardly a candidate for Father of the Year, without a second glance.  Just.  Wow.

Violet has perfected the technique of being invisible to avoid being bullied at school.  That doesn’t really work, but she is willing to stay on the fringes instead of getting caught up in the middle of  all of the action.  With the life of her father in danger, though, she must face her fears and start taking risks.  Sometimes observing life isn’t good enough; you have to roll up your shirt sleeves and dive into life.  It was fun watching as Violet gathered the courage to do just that.

Despite some pacing issues, i enjoyed this YA mystery.  I think it will work best for the younger range of YA readers, or anyone with an interest in Japan or Japanese art should find it hard to put down.  Violet is a likeable protagonist, and I had fun following along as she discovered her inner strengths and started to come into her own as she struggled with her relationship with her self-absorbed father.  Her lack of stealth as she raced to crack the mystery of the missing van Gogh painting had me worried about her continued health on more than one occasion.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she emerged, mostly unscathed, to the end of the book. 

Grade:  B

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by publisher

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Interview with Ryan Inzana, Author of Ichiro

Ryan Inzana is an artist and author.  His latest release, the graphic novel Ichiro, hits stores next week.  Ryan stopped by the virtual offices to talk about his new book, so read on to see what he has to say about Ichiro.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Ryan Inzana] I am an illustrator, writer and comic artist.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Ichiro?

[Ryan Inzana] It is a graphic novel about a boy’s adventure through a mythological world. Along the way, the protagonist, whose name is Ichiro, deals with issues of cultural identity, war, history and loss. And monsters, there is an abundance of monsters.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the book?

[Ryan Inzana] The first seeds of the book were planted on a trip I took to the Peace Park museum in Hiroshima, Japan. I was there with my wife and her family, who are originally from the area.  It is at once both disturbing and enlightening to visit the museum. Not only do you find out about the atom bomb and its effect, but you learn the history of World War II as told from the perspective of the Japanese.

When most Americans think of Japan and World War II, they immediately think of Pearl Harbor. The history most school children learn in the United States labels Japan as the aggressor and America as the victim that begrudgingly enters the fray only after being attacked. But in front of me in Hiroshima history told a very different story, the roles of aggressor and victim seemed to be vastly less defined. Most importantly, the museum gives you the stories of the average people that were killed in the blast, not some faceless enemy, but ordinary people. History in general and war in particular are a lot less black and white than some make it out to be.

I wondered, how would I explain this all to my son, that long ago the country where his father was born fought a war against the country where his mother was born. That scores of people died and that both sides had good intentions and bad intentions but most of them wished the war would simply just end. That now America and Japan are friends and the world is ok? There are still scars. I left the museum and looked up at all these modern buildings that stand in today’s Hiroshima City. For the first time, I gave some thought as to why Japan’s cities look so new and futuristic, it’s because the old buildings were bombed into rubble during World War II so they had to rebuild.

The experience made me feel conflicted, but it also made me curious. I started talking to people, reading books, doing research. This all led me to think more broadly about war and humanity. One aspect that really interested me in my research was the role that Shintoism and Japanese mythology played in World War II. There is a notion, not just in World War II Japan but probably in every country that has ever engaged in large scale combat, that God (or Gods, as the case maybe) not only supports war, but has a stake in it and has bet on the fill-in-the-blank country to win it all. I thought to myself, if the Gods are so pro-war, maybe they are fighting amongst themselves. And so I imagined an epic mythological battle going on in the heavens that mirrored the real world conflict that is going on today.

The character of Ichiro really came out of the "how would I tell my son about this" thought that I had. The mythological characters in the book are in part based on their descriptions in the Kojiki, which is Shinto scripture. Also ukiyo-e prints, Japanese handscrolls and screen paintings, stories of the yokai (monsters from Japanese folktales) helped inform my design sense and gave me some sort of base of the character’s personalities that I could embellish on.

Some of weirdest characters in the book came from random doodles in my sketch book.

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of creating the story?

[Ryan Inzana] I’m dealing with a lot of themes and issues in this book. I didn’t want it to come off heavy-handed or have it seem forced. That and drawing, inking, painting and coloring 280 pages of comics.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things would Ichiro never have in his pockets?

[Ryan Inzana] I don’t know, Ichi is a little survivalist so you can never tell what he’s going to have in his pockets in case of an emergency. Can’t rule out anything.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Ryan Inzana] I like that quote from Faulkner where he says, "Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window."  That’s exactly how I feel about it and the same goes for art. My book shelves are buckling under the weight of a little bit of everything.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

The 3 s’s: Silence, Solitude and more Silence.

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

[Ryan Inzana] I fish. I live on a river, so when the conditions are right, I’m out the door like a kid when the school bell rings.

[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!!


You can learn more about Ryan by visiting his website.

You can pre-order Ichiro from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below:

 

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