Like most bloggers, I occasionally get will-you-read-my-book e-mails from authors, agents, and/or publishers I have never heard of. Those always make me cringe. On the one hand, I completely understand how hard it is to get your work noticed, and how there could be many fantastic novels out there suffering from a lack of publicity, and how we should all support indie publishers and new talent. On the other hand, a lot of them are just...well...
...awful. And then, what do you do? Ann Rinaldi and Gary Paulsen couldn't care less whether I liked their latest books, but this fledgling author now has a personal connection with me, however tenuous. I rarely review things I didn't care for, and now the author/agent is e-mailing me weekly, asking if I have had the chance to finish it yet. I feel too much empathy to answer honestly, and we do this little dance of words for a while. Awkward. Painful.
Every once in a while, however, I take a chance on one: and, in this case, I am so glad I did!
"Aiko Cassidy is fourteen and lives with her sculptor mother in a small Midwestern town. For most of her young life Aiko, who has cerebral palsy, has been her mother's muse. But now, she no longer wants to pose for the sculptures that have made her mother famous ?and have put food on the table. Aiko works hard on her own dream of becoming a great manga artist with a secret identity. When Aiko's mother invites her to Paris for a major exhibition of her work, Aiko at first resists. She'd much rather go to Japan, Manga Capital of the World, where she might be able to finally meet her father, the indigo farmer. When she gets to France, however, a hot waiter with a passion for manga and an interest in Aiko makes her wonder if being invisible is such a great thing after all. And a side trip to Lourdes, ridiculous as it seems to her, might just change her life."
Aiko is both unique and completely familiar. I am not an artist (I don't even like manga), not the child of a single parent, neither bicultural nor biracial, have no physical handicaps, and very definitely not a teenager, yet I had no problem identifying with her. There were so many trite directions this story could have gone off in, and Kamata deftly avoided each one. There were surprises, but no sudden, shocking twists to overshadow the heart of the story: a coming of age/self-awareness story that has not a syllable of preachiness to it.
This strikes me as one of those unique novels that adults can recomend with no qualms, and kids can enjoy despite being told to read it by an adult. The main audience is YA, but I would also add it to middle school libraries. I only had two minor 'complaints':
1. Although manga is not my 'thing', I was somewhat surprised not to see a few examples of Aiko's work splashed throughout the book. That may draw in more actual fans of manga. This should not be construed to mean the story needs the illustrations, it would just be a nice touch.
2. I am really, really hungry now, and want my own personal Raoul.
Gadget Girl is available in late May of this year, from Gemma Media. Thank-you to Ms. Kamata for the review copy!