ByÂ Rashaad JordenÂ (Yamagata-ken, 2008-2010) forÂ JQÂ magazine. Rashaad worked at four elementary schools and three junior high schools on JET, and taught a weekly conversion class in Haguro (his village) to adults. He completed the Tokyo Marathon in 2010, and was also aÂ memberÂ of a taiko group in Haguro.
Sometimes, weâ€™re just trying to find out where we belong.
Thatâ€™s certainly the case with Aiko Cassidy, the teenage protagonist of JET Program alumÂ Suzanne KamataÂ (Tokushima-ken, 1988-1990)â€™s latest novel,Â Gadget Girl: TheÂ Art ofÂ BeingÂ Invisible. The 15-year-old daughter of a renowned sculptor, Aiko wants to develop her own identity, instead of being known as Laina Cassidyâ€™s muse and suffering from a disability (cerebral palsy). Aiko has been secretly working on manga titledÂ Gadget Girl, and she dreams of becoming a world famous manga artistâ€”which would enable her to visit her father in Japan.
But instead of heading to the Land of the Rising Sun, Aiko is off to France for several days, as Laina has won the grand prize at the prestigiousÂ Prix de Paris. Although sheâ€™s still receiving the â€œLaina Cassidyâ€™s museâ€ treatment, the City of Light does open up a new world for Aiko. For one, she develops a crush on a waiter named HervÃ© at the cafÃ© she frequents. Aiko is also introduced to the spot where he parents met but more importantly, she learns the reason why her father is absent from her life.
Inspired by the movieÂ The Song of Bernadette, Aiko and Laina head to Lourdes, where Aiko dreams of being cured. Instead, she hears a woman whisper â€œForgive,â€ and Aiko uses that as a call to repair broken relationships in her life.
Gadget GirlÂ starts out slowlyâ€”the first half of the novel could be described as â€œgirl experiencing teen angstâ€â€”but it really picks up when Aiko and Laina arrive in France (the first several chapters, which take place in Michigan, mostly go into detail about Aikoâ€™s frustration with life in a small town, her crush on a classmate, and her desire to do something great). Even in France, the only real excitement taking place is when Aiko is infuriated by the news that her fatherâ€™s family shunned her.
AsÂ Gadget GirlÂ is geared toward young adults (or more specifically, teenage girls), it is an easy read. But you get the sense that because of its diverse set of characters, it would make a good TV drama because individual episodes could focus on issues certain characters face (e.g., Aikoâ€™s anger with her fatherâ€™s family, her struggles to publicizeÂ Gadget Girl, Lainaâ€™s beau Raoulâ€™s clumsiness in taking care of Aikoâ€™s dear indigo plant). With so many characters playing an important role in a relatively short novel, you donâ€™t get a complete feel for their personalities.
Upon finishing the novel, there are several unanswered questions but the most important one isâ€¦what will the future hold for Aiko in regards to her relationship with her father?
It certainly looks like more adventures in store for the creator ofÂ Gadget Girl.
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