Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Review: Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible by Suzanne Kamata

Title: Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Release date: May 17th 2013
Publisher: GemmaMedia
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Pages: 228
Source: Author

Aiko Cassidy is fourteen and lives with her sculptor mother in a small Midwestern town. For most of her young life Aiko, who has cerebral palsy, has been her mother's muse. But now, she no longer wants to pose for the sculptures that have made her mother famous and have put food on the table. Aiko works hard on her own dream of becoming a great manga artist with a secret identity.

When Aiko's mother invites her to Paris for a major exhibition of her work, Aiko at first resists. She'd much rather go to Japan, Manga Capital of the World, where she might be able to finally meet her father, the indigo farmer. When she gets to France, however, a hot waiter with a passion for manga and an interest in Aiko makes her wonder if being invisible is such a great thing after all. And a side trip to Lourdes, ridiculous as it seems to her, might just change her life.

Gadget Girl is an enjoyable contemporary novel with infusions of Japanese culture and manga. I know a bit about Japanese culture from works studied in Literature class, so it was pretty cool reading more about that in this book. There's a lot of self-discovery in this book, and I think it's great for lower YA readers.

Aiko has always been her mother's muse for her paintings, the ones that make her famous. Everyone knows her mother's work, and they recognize Aiko because of it. But Aiko feels like that's all she is. And her dream is to become a manga artist, something she's hidden from her mother, and from everyone except her best friend, Whitney. Aiko writes a manga called Gadget Girl. She has a fanbase, but she's not ready to tell the world she's the artist. Aiko's used to being invisible, and she likes it, especially because of her cerebral palsy. She's been made fun of a lot, and treated really unkindly. Aiko also wants to know about her father, who's in Japan and apparently has no idea of her existence, but her mother is closed off. When the two of them get the chance to go to Paris for the summer, everything changes - for better or worse.

I felt like this book was more middle-grade than young adult, since Aiko is in the eighth grade and only turns fifteen towards the end of the novel. But I guess the issues addressed are more serious than what you'd find in a middle grade novel, so I get it. The other issue I had was with the length - I think this was way too short to showcase Aiko's life and a whole summer in Paris. Some parts were glossed over a bit, and I think I would have enjoyed this more if there was more detail and some scenes went a little deeper.

I've never read a novel where the protagonist has a condition like Aiko's, so that was definitely new for me. I found it easy to connect with Aiko, and I felt defensive on her behalf every time someone gave her a hard time about her cerebral palsy. Man, American middle-schoolers can be nasty! Regardless of Aiko's disability, I really admired her, because she has some great inner strength. And she's also pretty wise for an eighth grader. Aiko's extremely talented, and though she has qualms as expected, I loved that she never truly lost hope in anything.

I think some of the secondary characters could have been explored a bit more, like Whitney and Hervé. I think it's great that Whitney's always there for Aiko, especially when no one else is. And Hervé is just adorable. His little romance with Aiko is quite cute to see, and I also liked that they had so much in common.

Aiko learns a lot about herself in Paris, both from self-discovery and from her mom. And what she learns from her mom is quite shocking to her, but she stays strong. Aiko's definitely not like any fourteen-year-old I'd know. She's very independent, which I guess is a given because she has to take care of herself a lot. Her imagination is fantastic, and though the Gadget Girl issues she writes are mostly the same thing - Gadget Girl saving Chaz, I liked that Aiko uses inspiration from her real life to add to her manga. So I guess it makes sense to finally put her name on the issue.

Overall, I think Gadget Girl is great for readers just going into high school like Aiko is, but I don't know if older readers will enjoy it as much. I did like the writing - it was kept simple and yet I felt it was powerful and quite profound. There was a lot of hope in the end, which I always love in the books I read.

*Thank you to Suzanne Kamata for sending a copy for review*

Rating: 3/5

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