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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo    by Greg Leitich Smith order for
Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
by Greg Leitich Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the hilarious tale of three genius overachievers at the 'highly intense' Peshtigo School (a private school) in Chicago. It's told from the alternating points of view of close friends Elias, Shohei and Honoria. Unfortunately, Honoria has a crush on Shohei, Elias fancies her, and Shohei sees himself as Cupid, thus setting up a situation as farcical as any Shakespearian comedy. Shohei embarks on an anonymous email courtship of Honoria on Elias' behalf ... and I'm sure that you can see where that goes.

Elias attends school under the shadow of his brilliant elder siblings, which creates a particular problem with his demanding, unreasonable science teacher, Mr. Eden. Shohei was adopted and his Irish parents have been infected by an article on 'The Urgency of Exposing Cross-Culturally Adopted Children to the Ancestral Cultures of their Biological Parents', and are pushing elements of Japanese heritage at him in a steady, unwanted stream. Honoria's mum is an entomologist, and she and Elias share a fascination for dead bugs.

A Science Fair looms. Elias decides to repeat an experiment (in order to verify the results, of course) originally run by his elder brother, to test whether classical music affects plant growth. Shohei, desperate for a topic, runs the same experiment as a control. Honoria attempts to entice her piranhas Spot and Fluffy to switch to a banana diet - in the process, Eli finds that diced cattle hearts and banana chunks dripping blood don't 'help the romance factor.'

When Eli fails to repeat his brother's results and Mr. Eden assigns him a D, he fights back. He ends up in Student Court - the school's 'pride, joy, and number-one propaganda tool' - defended by Honoria (who compares his situation to Galileo's but tells him that 'Sometimes being right doesn't matter'), and ultimately helped by Shohei, despite earlier strains on their friendship. In a denouement as funny as anything that's gone before, the trio decides that extreme measures are needed to change Mr. Eden's mind, and execute them together.

It's especially nice to see a story that celebrates brainy kids and their accomplishments - Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo is altogether a brilliant read.
Note: A Teacher's Guide is available.

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