Synopsis James Gong, aged 14, is training for his black belt in taekwondo, or Korean karate. When a camera crew from Hollywood Productions turns up to his training, they witness James' jumping spinning sidekick. He is cast in a low-budget movie and James sees it as his chance to be a movie star and impress the girl of his dreams. It is a career-changing moment for James but it is not all smooth sailing. There are a few twists and turns in the plot, not unlike James' taekwondo. But the clues are there if you look for them. The author has kindly left a breadcrumb trail for the sharp-eyed reader.
The novel is suitable for 9 to 13 year old readers and they will find the requisite number of funny nose-picking and bum references. It is written colloquially in the first person, but like most teenage boys, James has little self-awareness. Rather he is self-obsessed, stubborn, and whiny. He is the kind of kid who sets out for the North Pole but somehow ends up at the South Pole. The book is set in Melbourne, but the city is irrelevant – kids will recognise any suburban skate park or vert. You don't have to know anything about taekwondo to enjoy this book, but young fans of this sport will love it. Ditto skating. I sure learnt a lot about both. James' hero is Takeshi Yasutoko, who is a young Japanese professional vert skater. Google him if he's not familiar to you.
There are many book and movie allusions throughout, which is not surprising given the storyline. For example, the film James is to star in is described as Hamlet meets Star Wars; more like the The Karate Kid meets Brink to me. Does anyone remember The Roller Blade 7? An action movie with a dash of sci-fi. Or vice versa.
It is an amusing book for the pre-teens and is sure to be another Big Hit for Aussie author Paul Collins. I also really liked the Manga comic-like illustrations by Matthew Lin.
Know the Author Paul Collins is a very prolific writer; he has published over 140 children's and young adult books (and some for adults too). And he certainly knows kids and what they like (besides snot and fart jokes). Paul has black belts in taekwondo AND Jujitsu. He was trained in kick-boxing by an Australian Heavyweight Kickboxing Champ. He also trained with the LA Hell Drivers. So he knows what he is talking (writing) about.
What is Taekwondo? Taekwondo is Korean martial arts. It was developed after World War II and combined Japanese karate with Korean and Chinese martial arts. It has grown in popularity since becoming an Olympic Sport at Sydney in 2000 and it became a Commonwealth Games sport in 2010. It has head-high kicks, jumping, and spinning kicks. It uses speed, agility, and power but also has a gentler philosophy. The overarching goal is a peaceful society, and respect and courtesy are integral tenets of the sport. It is a spectacular, fast sport and great for spectators.