Friday, July 5, 2013

Living with Jackie Chan

"A true Karate Man is one with a god-like capacity to think and feel for others; irrespective of their rank or position. One who possesses ideals so lofty, a mind so delicate, as to lift him above all things base and ignoble, yet one who strengthens his hands to lift those who have fallen, no matter how low. The ultimate aim of Karate, therefore, lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." 

-Master Gichin Funakoshi 1868-1957

Confession: I love Jackie Chan movies.  I blame my parents.  So, when I saw the book Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles, I had to see what it was about.

It's Josh's senior year.  After fathering a baby during a one-night stand, he moves four hours away. Staying with his eccentric, karate-loving Uncle Larry (who calls him Samurai Sam), Josh tries to deal with his guilt.  However, there's a baby in the upstairs apartment, always reminding him of his past.  He meets Stella, and the two begin taking karate lessons with Larry.  Through these lessons, and the katas, Josh finds a community.  He and Stella share a connection, but she also has an extremely jealous boyfriend.  Through this hilarious and heartbreaking story, we see Josh's journey to becoming a "True Karate Man." 

I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book- it wasn't until I finished that I realized it's a companion to one of Knowles' other books: Jumping Off Swings (which I now have to read).  Knowing too many kids in this similar situation, I appreciated the perspective and way in which it was told.  Most books are from the girl's perspective, and the boy is  portrayed pretty negatively.  Granted, there are sometimes good reasons for that, but they seem to be  Josh is a complex, sympathetic character; a real kid. He made a mistake, and has to find a way to deal with it, heal from it- but not be totally defined by it.

Knowles wrote the characters in such a great way- we all have that one friend who's a bit too inappropriate, the odd uncle, the parents who have their own issues, the opposing lives of in-school strangers vs after-school friends...

I also loved the importance placed on finding a healthy outlet- finding a community, a good community.  Not dealing with problems with unhealthy substances. With martial arts Josh finds he isn't alone.  He moves in sync with a group, and they are all trying to be better people (True Karate Men).  I have found this with things like dance classes, or kickboxing. Everyone finishes, exhausted, but with a "Look! We did this! We finished together!"  Haha, like the song from Lion King II: "We are more than we are, we are one." (Gosh, I'm such a dork...)

I would recommend Living with Jackie Chan to anyone who enjoys kung fu and karate films, martial arts, and wants a realistic teen male narrator/protagonist.

Living with Jackie Chan is published by Candlewick Press.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 09.10.2013

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