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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

Kung Fu High School
by Ryan Gattis
Young adult 288 pages Harvest Books September 2005 Paperback    

Note to parents: This is a very graphic novel, in language and violence. Martin Luther King High School is not for the faint of heart: "Asian, Latin European, African, Indian and every other American thing in between" contribute to the mix of students. All of them are the color of poor, any logos or identifiable clothing taped over or torn out, anything that makes you stand out as a target.

 Everybody has an angle, even Principal Dermoody, who arranges kickbacks to Ridley, a fifth-year senior and drug lord planning a school takeover. When Jimmy Chang comes to MLK High School, he changes all that in a plot that becomes increasingly confrontational. Jimmy has a rep as a serious martial artist, a fact his cousins appreciate until he refuses to fight on the first day. But Jimmy changes his mind when one cousin is killed and the other’s life is on the line. Jimmy thought he had seen the last of fighting, but he steps up to protect his cousin and the family.

These kids endure their high school years, one day at a time, Jimmy Chang's fifteen-year old-cousin, hardened to this life of constant menace, armor-lined clothing and martial arts training. The appalling conditions at MLK reach a boiling point and there is a massive and bloody showdown, bodies flying, broken and bleeding. With his superior fighting skills, only Jimmy can save the day, an exercise that results in a virtual Armageddon.

This Brave New World scenario is a cross between Japanese superhero comics and violent video games, saturated with brutality and vivid descriptions of injuries sustained. Although the excessive violence and everyday battle for survival becomes a parody of guerilla warfare, the message is clear, a society defined by tribes that rule by force.

Young adult readers will either be horrified or excited by the non-stop action, as mesmerizing as a video game that takes out the players one by one. Gattis portrays civilization at its most primitive, everyone diminished by the violence, which is so over the top that it becomes a caricature, a Tarentino-esque drama of flying arms and legs, a teen Kill Bill I, II and III.

The problem is desensitization, each page like a fist in the face, drawing blood. Does this excess dull the senses, rationalizing a way of life, or does overkill prove the stupidity and hopelessness of such a world? Filled with graphic violence, death and despair, the author never romances the truth, but the martial arts scenes do read “cool”, maybe too cool. Parental oversight is needed to determine whether this book is appropriate reading for their young adult.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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