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From the Junior Ninja Champion series, volume 1

by Catherine Hapka

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-3287-1058-1
Publisher: HMH Books

A group of kids trains together for an obstacle-course game show.

When popular television show National Ninja Champion (a fictional analog to American Ninja Warrior) announces a spinoff competition for preteens, a group of kids starts training and dreaming big. Ty Santiago is the son of the owners of Fit Kidz gym and a glory-hound athletic superstar. He recruits JJ Johnson, a climber from a family of contractors, to modify the gym’s ninja-room equipment (normally reserved for ages 14 and up) for preteen heights. Cancer survivor Kevin Marshall’s another NNC–loving gym regular, but he hides his ninja-team involvement from his overprotective mother. Rounding out the team are Izzy Fitzgerald, a snooty but rebellious rich girl from a family of runners, and Mackenzie Clark, a science geek and superfan blogger (with two dads). Although the obstacle runs grow repetitive and occasional lines are clunky, the competition element and quick pace are reader-friendly. Once the team jells, external conflicts take a back seat to narratives about how the characters challenge themselves. The overall moral is the importance of having a supportive team (and being a supportive teammate) in this otherwise individual, niche sport, reiterated in a backmatter interview with an American Ninja Warrior competitor. Ty is implied Latino; Kevin is black; the other kids seem to be white by default.

An upbeat and fun series opener capturing the spirit of the source show.

(Fiction. 9-12)