An art theft, a trip to Japan, a rural Kyoto ryokan, a talented teen with a love of manga … bring it all together and you have one of the latest offerings on the YA reading scene for those who love Japan-based fiction.
This novel by Diana Renn opens in coffee-crazy Seattle with Violet, a talented teen manga artist, moving in with her painter father for the summer. When her father is commissioned to complete a painting in a Tokyo office building for a client who is also being extorted by a yakuza (Japanese mob boss). Violet ends up heading to Japan with her father and working to solve the mystery of a missing painting, all while being pursued by Japanese mob.
This book was a surprisingly difficult one for me to really get into. I will readily admit that I don’t read many books from the YA genre mainly because – surprise! – I am not the target demographic. But while some YA novels (ie The Hunger Games) seem to fluidly cross over into the adult realm, this novel felt very stilted in its writing, geared stylistically for a much younger crowd. And though I appreciated the mystery angle, the rather heavy involvement of the yakuza – even culminating in an encounter with weapons involved – seemed a bit of a stretch. The yakuza do exist here in Japan, but in eight years here, I have never been able to really pick them out of a crowd (except in Kokura in Kyushu … ) and they certainly don’t run around having gun battles on the river in Arashiyama.
But the series did have strong points. I enjoyed how much Japanese the author tried to insert into the text, highlighting cultural points but also emphasizing simple everyday vocabulary. And I really liked the subplot involving the manga that Violet was creating, involving a unique superhero named Kimono Girl. I actually wish that part of the story played a greater role in the plot.
I’d go so far as to say this would be a solidly enjoyable for teen readers, catering to their interests and, indeed, interest level. Japan doesn’t figure into a lot of fiction in general, and the setting is well realized. A good book to pick up and read before or during a trip to Japan, but advanced readers may be slightly disappointed.