Smith, Greg Leitich. 2003. Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo. New York: Little, Brown && Company. ISBN: 0316778540.
Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, by Greg Leitich Smith, is a delightfully
and witty story about three seventh graders: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria, who have been friends for some time. Elias, is the youngest child in his family and is the only one who doesn’t like science; Shohei,
is Japanese and adopted by a Caucasian family who pushes his heritage down his throat; and Honoria loves jazz music and science,
plus she keeps two piranhas.
One quality that
makes readers accept the characters is that they start off facing problems in the very beginning. Shohei, who has a little brother Ninja, is helping Elias
win Honoria heart, when Honoria actually has a crush on Shohei. They must also
decide on science fair projects. Honoria is trying to get her Piranhas to eat bananas instead of meat, and Elias and Shohei are working on a project that Elias’s
brother previously did about classical music helping plants to grow – which ends up being the Galileo effect. Hence the title, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.
The problems do
not get solved until almost the very end. When Elias’s science fair project
does not yield the same results that his older brother received, his teacher fails him.
In order to try and pass science class, Elias slips in and changes the music.
He is caught and has to stand trail in the school court. Elias must make
the Galileo decision of recanting or he will be suspended from school.
and a little thing called blackmail are present as themes in Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.
They are themes that young adults can identify with. The main characters
are all friends. They try and help each other fall in love, Shohei works at helping
Elias gain Honoria’s heart. Honoria tries to help Elias out by being his
lawyer during his school trial, but Elias ends up blackmailing the teacher in order to redo his science project. They are the best of friends one minute and the next they are not friends at all. Almost every young adult at some point has had a crush on someone, and let’s face it we all
try to blackmail our siblings into not getting us in trouble with our parents. Young
adults still today will be friends for awhile and then they will not be friends over the simplest little things.
Before the story ends, the three characters stories are intertwined and have their own views points about
problems at home and school. Smith’s style of introducing the three characters to us in their own words using a diary
format makes the reader feel apart of the story. We get to see the story from
a first-person point of view. Their names are used as section dividers.
The setting for
Smith’s, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, is at a private school in the Chicago area where privileged, upper-class
students go: the Peshtigo School of Chicago. The book jacket does say that this would be an “intelligent read.” Even though it deals with gifted students, everyone will be captured and drawn into
the lives of Elias, Honoria, and Shohei. In the author’s note, Smith notes
that this school was a lot like the one he attended. He also gives more background
information on Galileo.