Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
Smith, Greg Leitich. 2003. Ninjas, piranhas, and Galileo.
New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 0316778540.
Greg Leitich Smith writes a young adult novel that successfully delves
into the social and academic aspects of the early teenage years by
viewing a situation through the eyes of three different young
people. Shohei, Honoria, and Elias are all friends and classmates
at a prestigious private prep school. The short but action-packed
story covers a short time period in which the three main characters are
grappling with their feelings for each other, a high-stakes science
fair and the consequences of perceived misconduct, and the new
relationships that emerge between parents and pre-teens.
Although the elaborate school created by Smith is fictitious, the plot
moves quickly and uses modern situations with which today's teenagers
are able to relate, such as Elias clicking "New Mail" over and over
again to see if Honoria has e-mailed him (p.164). Young readers
will identify with the ups and downs that the main characters feel and
the awkwardness that sometimes creeps into friendships as they begin
take their first halting steps into romance. Smith is able to
hint at lessons to be learned through the story without
heavy-handedness. One example of this is the miscommunication
that results when the characters try to act as go-betweens for each
other in their romantic pursuits.
Although the plot deals with young love, school pressures, and changing
relationships with parents, Smith is able to add another dimension by
advancing the story through different first-person narratives by the
main characters. The characters' thoughts about themselves and
each other reveal their unique personalities. Smith creates
strong and capable characters who also have very human flaws.
Readers see that Shohei is very aware of himself as an individual as he
tries to make his parents understand that there are many more sides to
him than just his Japanese heritage, but we also see a flaw when he
doesn't complete his part of a joint science fair project and then lies
about it to Elias and the science fair judges. Shohei is also a
good example of a character who grows as he finds new ways to
communicate with his parents as they are trying to force his Japanese
heritage on him. From the very beginning of this book, Smith lets
the reader know that
the main characters in this book are very bright and not ashamed of
it. Honoria is never ashamed of the fact that she likes
in the science fair (p.9) or that she wants to win as the defense
attorney on the Peshtigo School's Student Court (p.16). This is a
that makes it seem cool to be the smart kid, and many young readers
will find this refreshing and be able to relate.
Link to the author's homepage, which includes teacher guides to Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo: