Ethnic stereotyping, mangled metaphors ("The sharp thorn of jealousy pierced my barefoot heart") and other problems keep a firm stranglehold on this first novel. Thirteen-year-old Jack Winslow describes how his family comes to terms with the death of his mother. The process is facilitated by the presence of Maki, a 29-year-old university student from Okinawa who agrees to work for the Winslows in exchange for room and board. From the beginning, Jack's high-energy delivery assumes a tone of almost unrelieved, forced savvy ("[his handshake] came off with all the soul of Barry Manilow doing Aretha Franklin's greatest hits"), meant to pass for sharp wit and "sarcasm." His mordant observations and reaching attempts at humor tend to fall flatthe author's adult sensibility creeps in, through strained, dated cultural references, for instance. Maki embodies every stereotype of female Asians, right down to her accent, which is gratuitously "translated" for the reader ("Sank [thank] you"). Inconsistencies abound: in character development; in odd, abrupt changes in tense; in trivial plot details. An ill-conceived effort. Ages 9-14. (Aug.)
Gr 6-10In this contemporary story set in suburban Kansas City, MO, readers meet 14-year-old narrator Jack Winslow, his older sister Karen, and their widowed father. Soon, these characters are joined by a university student from Okinawa who comes to live with them, the overbearing "Aunt Wizzbutt" (Elizabeth), and the unbelievably crass Ed Withers (Mr. Winslow's co-worker). There are also a few stock characters: Jack's nerdy best friend; the ubiquitous school bully; and the beautiful, but distant, love interest. Despite the stereotypical cast, the humorous adventures are engaging, if not quite believable. The family has fallen into a dysfunctional balance, and things get worse before they get better. The young woman who is foreign to their culture and is herself the victim of insensitivity and out-and-out racism helps to bring harmony back into the home. In the course of the year, Jack gains self-confidence through aikido lessons, some insight into his own psyche, and is given glimpses into the grown-up world he will soon join. He is a cynic who uses sarcasm as his best defense. Karen gets in some great wisecracks; even the unbearable Ed Withers is no match for her. Some of the interpersonal conflicts are taut, yet the tension is cut by Jack's razor-sharp wit. Despite the serious themes of coming of age, coping with loss, and dealing with racism, the book never gets too heavy. It will be enjoyed by YAs, particularly those who have outgrown Gordon Korman.Lucinda Lockwood, Thomas Haney Secondary School, Maple Ridge, BC
Since his mother died three years ago, Jack has learned to make his own way through life. His sister is on another wavelength, his father usually comes home late, Aunt Elizabeth tries to dominate the household the way she dominates the town, and they have gone through many housekeepers. So when Jack's father announces that he has arranged to take in Maki, a 29-year-old exchange student from Okinawa, no one is thrilled. Maki, however, turns out to be just what everyone needed.
Riggs's first novel gallops off in a dozen different directions at once; some of the problems are not entirely credible or are resolved too easily, while others dangle realistically, without coming to a clear resolution. Jack, who narrates, is an engaging and complex character, and readers will relate to his travails with bullies, a first girlfriend, his father's burgeoning interest in a woman, drinking, racism, and more. An overwrought, but still promising, debut.