A white American boy living in Japan faces serious bullying.
Jason’s family moved to Japan three years ago. Kamakura is an “out-of-the-way / seaside neighborhood / where hardly anyone / isn’t Japanese,” and Jason’s “the nail / that sticks out / just waiting / to be hammered down.” In school, he’s matched with five unfriendly classmates to sit, study, and do school chores with for the next two months. They taunt, punch, and kick him, even whacking him with a broom handle, ostensibly for getting a word wrong or having an accent. The text subtly yet steadily ratchets up suspense by using line breaks and spacing instead of periods; the free verse hums with a sense of impending danger. Is it the bullies that threaten or something natural, like a coastal typhoon? At the crisis moment, Jason’s sharp-as-a-tack younger sister leaps in to help, creating a satisfying culmination of their unidealized but deep and companionable relationship. It’s unfortunate that Thompson once again (The Language Inside, 2013) chooses a white protagonist’s viewpoint on Japan and that she doesn’t provide him Japanese peers who are as strong as the bullies; there are certainly kind Japanese characters here, but they’re mostly adults, leaving an impression of two bullied and heroic white American siblings amid hostile Japanese kids.
Well-crafted and emotionally compelling, with a somewhat regrettable setup. (glossary, cultural guide, resources) (Verse fiction. 10-13)