Author Alan Gratz hits a home run with his riveting first line: Toyo watched as his uncle prepared to kill himself. This intense coming-of-age story is full of references to seppuku (ritual suicide practiced only by Japanese samurai) and bushido (the samurai warrior code). Set in 1890, the plot centers on the experiences of Toyo, the son of a samurai, as he adjusts to his first year at an elite Tokyo boarding school. Though there are plenty of exciting baseball scenes, you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this book. In fact, the most rousing parts of the story deal with the violent hazing that takes place at Toyo’s school and the brutal samurai training that Toyo undergoes with his father. This historical novel resonates with universal themes including friendship, loss, patriotism and family. Especially if you are interested in Japanese history and culture, you’ll enjoy reading about Toyo’s experiences. Try the excellent audiobook version if you’re interested in hearing the correct way to pronounce the many Japanese words in the story.