This book is based on the life of a historical person, a shipwrecked Japanese fisherman who was adopted by the captain of an American whaling ship in the 1840s. Interesting, right! He eventually returned to Japan with knowledge of the outside world, knowledge of English, and practical knowledge of subjects like navigation.
The author of Heart of a Samurai seemed to face a similar challenge as Pam Munoz Ryan, the author of Riding Freedom: a long, complicated life to dramatize but a minimum amount of space. Maybe it is almost impossible for this particular story to be mashed into a single YA book. I just know the story did not draw me in well enough, despite the incredible potential of the material. Manjiro found himself in a situation that must have been mind-blowing, yet I did not really feel it, on the whaling boat with Westerners or when they came to New England. I relished the opportunity to return with him to Japan after nearly a decade, to imagine what he must have seen and felt, to just soak it up, but those chapters were brief, too brief to be anything other than a sketch or an outline.
Maybe each of these momentous shifts in his life really needed a separate volume to really do justice to his voice, to the setting, to the story.