{book} flying the dragon

on

I am going to start out my ‘reader response’ with a few worries about the book, but I adore the book, so stick around.

Skye and Hiroshi are cousins, but they’ve never met. How could they, when Skye’s father hasn’t spoken to his Japanese family since before she was born? But now their grandfather is sick, and the family is coming to the United States for his treatment. Skye and Hiroshi are stuck with each other.

Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore: at school she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she’s not Japanese enough. And as Hiroshi struggles to improve his English, he as to contend with Sky butting in on his rokkaku kite-flying time with Grandfather—time that seems to be running out. –inside jacket copy

Above is the copy that intrigued me, that and plenty of “wow, what a great read!” -type reviews. After a fantastic “Mixed-up Files…” interview with Flying the Dragon‘s Natalie Dias Lorenzi, I knew I would read it sooner than later—bonus: I won a copy! However, as I began to read it, I began to worry a bit: the story sounded all too familiar. Looking for an easy copy/paste synopsis to quote, I was at goodreads and read the one there. If I had read it earlier, I would have been more inclined to put Flying the Dragon on the back burner. Why? For those who have read the wonderful middle-grade novel The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang* as recently as I have may sense an uncomfortable repetition. Foreign relative threatening to ruin young female athlete’s aspirations and forcing her to attend cultural school. While I believe a shortage of these kinds of stories is more of a worry than a dearth, who wants to read two too similar stories close together? True, authorial voices and the cultures differ, but I loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and I didn’t want Flying the Dragon to fail after such high hopes. It didn’t.

[I was concerned as to how Natalie Dias Lorenzi was going to top “the loss” sequence, but the rokkaku was genuinely exhilarating. And then that last page…not the last two paragraphs, but the four previous. End the story there. It is lovely.]

The novel alternates chapters and first person narrative between Skye and Hiroshi. While Skye grew on me and into a more of a character and less of a caricature, I was immediately taken with Hiroshi. Maybe it was that Hiroshi had his grandfather and this life that seemed so charming and deep (less superficial?). After the educational aspect on the cultural differences Hiroshi was encountering, once the conflicts are established, feeling sets in and the story stepped to the fore. The author handles the “educational aspects” well, and this is where Skye balances out Hiroshi’s perspective. She is normal for her age, and thus earnest, and comedic. She is a good girl who would be helpful, but she is still just a girl, with ambitions of her own, ones it would be hard to fault her for. The rivalry between the cousins is marvelous; the family dynamics and sheer force of individual personalities is why anyone should read Flying the Dragon.

Flying the Dragon is going to be an informative read—on multiple levels. It is rather enthusiastic on this point—in an infectious way. You learn about another culture, the struggles of being bi-cultural (if not multi-), about language and a bit about the school system and the school-aged. These serve as structural elements to a deeper story about friendship and family and forgiveness, and the preciousness of time. At first I worried that the instructional value was going to out-weigh anything else. It didn’t. With short chapters and a pleasing pace, the author allows the heart of the story to unfold in good time. Flying the Dragon is a story to learn from: about friendship and family and forgiveness, and the preciousness of time; as well as kite fighting and soccer, interfering relatives and the struggles and triumphs of our multi-cultural landscapes. It is also a pleasure to read, with characters I enjoyed getting to know. This is a sweet novel, I never should have worried, Natalie Dias Lorenzi and Flying the Dragon do more than hold their own.

***************

recommendations: for girls and boys, bicultural or no; for lovers of soccer, kites, and/or learning about other cultures; for those able to commiserate with living in another country or culture, who’ve experienced immersion or ESL in some way; this one is up there with the likes of Julia Alvarez’s Tia Lola, Wendy Wan-Long Shang The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Grace Lin’s Dumpling Days—so if you enjoyed any of those.

of note: I love multi-generational families and this longing on the part of the youngest to learn about the oldest, to form connections. The inclusion of these older characters adds a cleverness because they can impart wisdom and guide the protagonist through conflict.

*interestingly enough, it was WendyS/Wendy Shang, who conducted “The Mixed-up Files…” interview with the author.

{cover art by Kelly Murphy}

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Charlesbridge, 2012. hardcover, 231 pages. own.

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