FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Skye has never really been in touch with her Japanese heritage. She has forgotten most of the Japanese her father taught her as a child. Now her parents are insisting that she enroll in Japanese school on Saturdays, which could prevent her from playing on the All Star soccer league in the summer–all because her grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousin, Hiroshi, are moving to Virginia from Japan so that her grandfather can undergo cancer treatment. Skye loves getting to know her grandfather, whom she has never met, but she hates being Hiroshi’s translator at school, a job which opens her up to ridicule from the rest of her class. Hiroshi is equally unhappy. He had to leave Japan right before the big rokkaku kite battle that he and his grandfather were supposed to enter. He hates having to learn a new language and customs of a foreign country. And worst of all, he now has to share his grandfather with Skye. Both Hiroshi and Skye struggle with learning the conventions of an unfamiliar culture and language and attempt to deal with their grandfather’s illness, and in the process, they grow closer to one another.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Lorenzi draws on her experience as an American living in Japan to convey the differences between the cultures while treating them as equal. Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language or lived in a foreign country will relate to the characters’ experiences. And the grandfather’s terminal illness and the family’s emotions are portrayed realistically, though very gently. The book is sad but ultimately uplifting. I would recommend Flying the Dragon to middle grade readers who like realistic fiction.