Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Skye is an amazing soccer player who has finally qualified for the all-star team.  She's not even done celebrating when her parents let her know that she might not be able to play on the team that summer.  Her grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousin are moving to Virginia from Japan so that Grandfather can receive treatment for his cancer.  Skye has never met her father's family or thought much about her Japanese heritage but now she has to take lessons in Japanese in order to communicate with them and those lessons will interfere with her soccer.  Skye's cousin Hiroshi is not happy with the move either.  He and his grandfather have been preparing for rokkaku, or kite battling.  Grandfather is a master kite-builder and he has been teaching Hiroshi his craft but now Hiroshi feels that everything is ruined.  Forced together, the two cousins resent each other and are jealous of the time the other spends with Grandfather whom they both love.  They are also worried about how much time Grandfather spends resting each day and whether he will be able to join them in the rokkaku battle at the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  This is exactly the kind of book I generally don't like at all because it is often just a thinly veiled message of cultural understanding where everyone learns to appreciate each other's differences in the end.  But I really loved this book.  Both Skye and Hiroshi felt authentic to me with their resentments of each other and the way in which they excluded the other but then eventually began to get along.  Skye's growing sense of her Japanese heritage also seemed realistic without going over the top.  And the kite festival was the perfect set-up for some huge crisis that would then bring the family together - and it would've been that stereotypical scene in a lesser author's hands.  But here it was just engaging and made me want to go see the battle at the actual festival next year.  A very nice interweaving of America as a melting pot with a new friendship with some intergenerational relationships with a "sport" unfamiliar to most Americans.