Monday, December 11, 2006

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Book: Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
Author: Greg Leitich Smith
Published: 2003

Elias loves Honoria. But Honoria, alas, loves Shohei. And Shohei?

Would love it if his parents just gave the whole Japanese thing a rest.

Welcome to the slightly off-kilter world of the Peshtigo School, a place where science fairs spur animal-rights protests and Galileo-esque trials. At the center is this triad: Elias, Honoria, and Shohei, whose longtime friendship is being sorely tested by oncoming adolescence and the aforementioned science fair. They have a million questions: is it possible for piranhas to prefer bananas over bloody meat? Do plants really grow better on baroque chamber music? Can you get away with making your little brother do all your science-fair project? Can Elias ever live up to his genius brothers and sisters? Is Shohei ever going to convince his adoptive parents that really, he’s doing just fine without being immersed day and night in Japanese culture? Who is Honoria’s secret admirer, who by the way, writes really corny love e-mails? Will that snobby, condescending science teacher to admit Elias’s project might be valid, in spite of getting contrary results to the ones expected?

And the big one . . . is their friendship going to survive?

I had fun with this book. Smith intertwines the three stories in multiple-POV format, throwing in just enough lunacy to keep things interesting, but retaining the heart of these likeable middle-schoolers. While a lot of kids’ books assume that their readers have no interest in science, history, or law, Smith assumes all three and mixes them in like chocolate chips, without overloading readers with dull information. He’s written a companion/sequel called Tofu and T. Rex, which returns to the Peshtigo school if not these characters, and I hope he’ll continue. It’s a place where I want to return.

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