Johnny Hiro: Half-Asian, All Hero, by Fred Chao, is a really fun book. It's just what I needed, really, to help me realize that my reading rut was possibly due more to my choice of reading material than to any serious lack of concentration on my part. I just needed something a little more upbeat to read than the epic fantasy novel that I have been attempting to slog through for the past few weeks.
Johnny Hiro does not, on the surface, appear to be a book that will change your life. It's not about a moment of epiphany in which Johnny realizes that with great power comes great responsibility. It's about the mundane activities that make up your world (except, of course, for the giant lizard) and how you just have to keep plugging and get through the hard parts. The narrator more than once detaches himself from the action to explain someone's motivations or to show how some small action can have unforeseen consequences or how someone who really does do his best in life can still fail so spectacularly. The third party, indifferent observer opposes very nicely with the quick action terror that Hiro faces:
One of my favorite characters in the book is Johnny's girlfriend Mayumi. At first, Mayumi seems like the typical damsel-in-distress that often populates comic books. We first see her snatched from her apartment by a giant lizard, screaming to Hiro for help. But then when Hiro does go to help her, Mayumi cheerfully tells him that she is fine and that perhaps he should get the camera and take a picture so that Mayumi's mom can see what a hero he is. And I truly wondered about how ditzy Mayumi could be:
But as you get deeper into the story, you realize just what a struggle it is for Mayumi to stay so upbeat all the time, just how much effort she puts into her unfailing optimism. And I loved this about her - that just because she looked on the bright side of life and made the most of small wins, that didn't make her dim-witted or slow on the uptake. Rather, she comes through as a very strong character. She was very aware of just how difficult her life with Hiro was and how much they struggled to make ends meet - she just chose not to dwell on that and to focus on the positive instead.
This was a really fun book with which to spend an afternoon. While on the surface, it seems like a light romp through an alternate reality (particularly when Judge Judy makes a cameo), it really is a book that can combine depth with humor, and use fun, unlikely scenarios to make observations on life in general. Because as Chao mentions late in the book - most stories don't have happy endings or sad endings, they just keep going. So Hiro and Mayumi keep going, too, struggling to keep afloat in a massive city but determined to make the most of it, regardless.