In a Japanese seaside neighborhood lives Jason Parker: a sixth grader, an orange belt in aikido, a big brother. Jason Parker is just a boy trying to get through his days. If only everyone around him would let him. This is a beautifully spare novel in verse about one boy's life--a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to fit in.
Gr 6 Up—Jason is an American sixth grader living in Japan. As a foreigner, he stands out and is relentlessly bullied by his classmates while the teacher turns a blind eye. His only refuge is in the practice of Aikido, where he learns to center himself. The themes of bullying, feeling isolated, not fitting in, and striving to change the system are familiar landscape for Thompson, and fans of her teen books—Orchards (2011) and The Language Inside (2013, both Random)—will relish her first novel for younger readers. The plot builds slowly at first as the characters and setting are established. Readers' patience will be rewarded as the tension mounts between Jason and the bullies who torment him, leading to a heart-pounding climax when the games almost go too far. The free-verse format suits the story well, conveying Jason's emotions powerfully in few words, allowing readers to fill in the unsaid and mirroring the way Jason uses stoicism as a survival method at school. Those with some knowledge of Japanese culture will feel at ease with the setting right away, and those looking for a window to another culture will be intrigued by the realistic depiction of Japanese school life. Thompson provides a helpful glossary and cultural notes at the end, and graceful ink brush illustrations add to the atmosphere. VERDICT This stirring read will especially resonate with those who have been bullied—it will let them know they're not alone.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA