Samurai Shortstop

By: Alan Gratz

Historical Fiction
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Toyo is a son of a samurai, living in "turn-of-the-century" Japan. Koji, Toyo's uncle has just committed Seppuku for rebelling against the emperor, who is trying to modernize Japan. Part of the modernization was getting rid of the social status and traditions of the samurai. Koji fought to keep the samurai tradition alive, and was "allowed" to commit Seppuku instead of being executed. Without a chance to fully understand "bushido", the way of the warrior, or why his father seems intent on following Koji's footsteps, Toyo is thrown into his life at his new school. at his new school, he finds that the first-years are abused and picked on by the upperclassmen, and he can't even get the position from the current shortstop, who is clearly worse than he is. After Toyo goes through a beating from the upperclassmen, which seems to be a rite of passage, Toyo is able to play on the baseball team. With nothing going his way, Toyo tries to understand bushido, which his father has been teaching him, while trying to find a way to improve both his baseball skills, and the skills of his team. After a relentless search, Toyo solves both his problems in "one swing", one could say. He finds that he is able to understand and apply "Bushido" to baseball, which helps him tremendously. He improves so much, that his teammates want him to teach them "Bushido" so that they can improve just like him. Problem is, Toyo's father finds Toyo's application of "Bushido" to a western sport like baseball distasteful. With his school team's game against their rivals coming up, and his father refusing to accept baseball, will Toyo continue with his baseball team, or will he decide instead to listen to what his father says?

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I really enjoyed reading Samurai Shortstop. Along with learning about the history of Japan, I was also able to enjoy a compelling story about a boy who was able to overcome so much and really make a change in his society. Even though he was burdened by his lessons with his father, Toyo was also able to shape the lives of those around him for the better. He even rebelled against his father and was able to make his father see things his way when he felt he had a good reason to, which I related to strongly, and secretly hope one day I too will be able to do the same. Overall, I felt that this story was a good combination of humor, struggles in life, and overcoming struggles that was blended with a school life that teenagers could relate to. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who shows even the slightest interest in this genre or book.