Yoshitsune was born into the powerful Minamoto family in 12th century Japan, but when his father died in disgrace, he was shuffled off into a monastery with no hope for the future. As a scrawny teenager, no one expected much of him, but he escaped, ran north, and lived in asylum with another samurai lord. Although Yoshitsune started his real samurai training late in life, he was more motivated than most. When he felt he was ready, he planned to defeat the rival Taira family and win back the honor of the Minamoto.
Pamela Turner writes an unlikely hit biography for today’s teens. Not much is known about ancient Japan in today’s American high schools, but this tale of epic battles and political machinations will capture the imagination of even the most jaded student. Yoshitsune had to deal with sibling rivalry, false friends, and unexpected betrayals, but he became the most powerful samurai in history. As in most stories of royal families, there were forced marriages and illegitimate births, so keeping track of one’s lineage was a complicated task that was sometimes completely separated from one’s affections. Feelings ran even higher when an entire clan decided to change sides on the battlefield in the middle of a war!
American readers could find the naming conventions of 12th century Japan to be a challenge, so Turner included charts of names and places in the beginning of the book. Family names come first, and parents seemed to have a penchant for giving their children long names with the same initial letter. Minamoto Yoshitsune’s half brother was Minamoto Yoritomo. His father was Minamoto Yoshitomo. Then there were his close friends, the brothers Tadanobu and Tsuginobu. One other cause of discomfort could be the Japanese code of honor that preferred suicide over a perception of shame. I do have concerns about the effect of some of the suicide scenes on a teenage reader, so discussions are in order.
This multi-starred true story is action-packed and will introduce readers to a real-life superhero. If you’re looking for a tale that will motivate teens to work hard to achieve amazing goals, this is it!
Expect to see some medals on the cover after January’s Youth Media Awards.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.