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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

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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 participating 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 book 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:

An interview with Greg Leitich Smith about Ninjas, Piranha, and Galileo:

All Materials for this Site created by:
Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University