Sunday, June 2, 2013

Samurai Summer

So, I picked this book, because I tend to be drawn toward all things Asian.  And then I realized the author is Swedish (wha...???)  Then I actually started reading it, and learned it's about a summer camp.  Having spent many a summer at summer camp (and band camp, and theater camp), I was intrigued.

Sidenote: The term "camp" has actually been the base of many an argument between my husband and me.  I grew up in New England, where a camp- not a summer camp- is basically a summer home.  Or winter home.  Away from "it all." Nearness to a body of water is generally a given.  We have a nice one on Moosehead Lake. My husband says this is a cabin, and camp is where you play games with a bunch of kids, do crafts, and have counselors.  Deer/moose camps are something else, entirely.

Plus, the cover's pretty awesome, eh?

Samurai Summer by Åke Edwardson (translated by Per Carlsson) is the story of Kenny's last summer at camp.  Kenny's real name is Tommy- he renamed himself after ken (Japanese for sword).  He is obsessed with the ways of the Samurai, and is training himself to become one. It is set in Sweden in the early 1960s- families are just starting to get TVs and telephones.

The camp is run by "The Matron" and has visits from her creepy son, Christian.  Campers wash in a sludgy brown lake, and eat oatmeal that "tastes like chicken poop."  Dessert is similar to fruit cocktail syrup.  Campers only get to wash up with hot water and soap once, in the middle of summer, before parents come.  Counselors steal candy from the campers. There are 40 kids attending the camp, but there is no laughter.  

To escape The Matron and her counselor lackeys, Kenny and his friends escape to the forest, where they are building a castle.  As Kenny gets to know Kerstin, a girl at the camp, he toys with going against the rules, and showing her the castle.  When Kerstin suddenly disappears, Kenny teams up with his samurai "trainees" and they try to find her.  The result is a grim "us vs. them" battle.

I enjoyed Samurai Summer.  It wasn't a fun read- it actually got to be pretty disturbing- but it was very well-written.  There was a point I had to put the book down for a sec, because the description of the food was making me nauseous. It was like a darker, more disturbing, Holes (Sachar)

There is a lot of information about samurai.  Legends of famous samurai like Miyamoto Musashi, who beat his opponent Sasaki Kojirō with a boat oar; training one's thoughts toward that of a warrior; LOTS of romanized Japanese, especially for weapons.

There's an ominous feeling throughout the whole book- absolutely not happy.  There are entertaining moments, however.  One of my favorites is when Kenny and his friend Janne sneak into town and meet a couple of "Explorers" their age, paddling a canoe.  The Explorers want to travel to Missouri (remember, this takes place in Sweden).

I was also interested in the significance of the bag of Twist candy.  Like, it's mentioned in almost every other paragraph, and I was like "what the heck is this stuff?"  Thanks to Google, I found out it's a bag of different flavored chocolate candies from Norway.  Of course now I want to figure out how to get my hands on some...

As I said, it's not happy.  But it's very well-written.  I would definitely recommend it to boys- probably Junior High and up, anyone who was a fan of Holes, and anyone interested in Samurai culture.

Samurai Summer Release date: 6.25.13  ARC provided by NetGalley

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