In her third verse novel, Japan-based writer Holly Thompson tackles the topical issue of bullying. Her protagonist, likable American sixth-grader Jason Parker, struggles to fit in at his Japanese elementary school after moving from America to a seaside community on the Shonan coast in Kanagawa Prefecture. However, things go from challenging to overwhelming when he is assigned to sit with the cattiest girls and most pugnacious boys in his class.

The teacher turns a blind eye as the level of surreptitious bullying escalates, and Jason has to rely on his own wits and inner strength to get by, drawing on his aikido training for inspiration. His well-meaning but rather clueless parents are of little practical help — they’re too wrapped up in their busy teaching careers and trying to save enough money to send Jason to an international school.

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