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Summary: In feudal Japan, girls do not become samurai. Sisters Kimi and Hanna know more than most girls, because they have trained with their brothers, sons of the Jito (governor). Still, they can never attend the dojo, the school where boys are trained to be samurai. After witnessing their fathers' and brothers' murders, they escape with their lives. There is no time to mourn, and the girls must set in motion a plan to regain their family honor. Their first step: disguise themselves as boys and find a way to become samurai. Can they fool Master Goku, the man who trained their father? Will anyone discover their true identities? Will they ever, truly be safe? This title launches an adventure series set in feudal Japan, with two sisters studying to be Samurai.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 10 to 12; read yourself: 10 and up
Interest Level: 10 and up
Reading Level: 5.9
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: Yes, there are other books with the premise of girls disguising themselves to be boys. Generally, there is one heroine; here we have two. The author's presentation is unique and she will have you racing into the book within the first few pages. What is particularly noteworthy is the sister relationship. As siblings, they have bonds and expectations that are stronger and run deeper than those having two characters who are like sisters ... and it adds depth to the story.
Pros: Teens will devour this fast-paced adventure of two sisters. This book may be particularly appealing to twins. This is an ensemble cast of diverse, interesting characters. There are several males with whom pre-teen and teenage boys will immediately connect.
Cons: The book is set in feudal Japan and the characters are studying to be samurai. There is violence, with the descriptions of combat and injury described in enough detail to let you visualize it. Readers who don't want violent stories or who are squeamish about blood may find it distracting to try to skip over those parts.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. This is fascinating reading. Kids experience some of the events (teasing, pranks) today and may find the pieces of wisdom valuable to revisit.
Educational Themes: This book would make an excellent teen book club selection. There are a number of themes and discussions about the characters (their choices, challenges, responsibilities); society and culture; social principles; and family dynamics. Master Goku, the sensei (teacher) disperses wisdom throughout the book. Spend time talking about these nuggets: what do they mean to the reader? how can we apply that to our life? Think about complementing the reading with a yoga lesson or basic martial arts discussion or demonstration. Let the kids ask a "modern day expert" about what they're reading.
Notes: The Reading Tub, Inc. received an Advance Reader edition of this title for review. Flesch Kincaid reading level 6.2