School isn’t the easiest of places for thirteen-year-old Roxy Ran; regarded as a social misfit by her peers, she and her only friend, Cinnamon, are sneered and laughed at and constantly bullied – especially by Heroshi (Hero), national martial arts champion and captain of the school team. It’s not much better at home, where Elecktra, Roxy’s sixteen-year-old sister, bullies her as well. It’s no surprise that Elecktra – so stunningly beautiful that the traffic stops for her if she walks out in front of it – ignores Roxy at school and pretends she’s not related. Roxy has never met her father and doesn’t know anything about him. Her Japanese mum is a martial artist – a great shadow warrior – who can ‘slice the wings off a mosquito with a ninja star’. Art, Mum’s partner is an artist.
It is not until Hero’s bullying tips Roxy over the edge when he tries to drown Cinnamon’s kitten that Roxy’s ninja powers are unleashed and she displays some disconcerting and mysterious fighting abilities. But new boy, Jackson Axe, recognises Roxy’s powers and teaches her about the world of martial arts, and the White Warrior and legendary Tiger Scrolls which they must find before the samurai do. Roxy ends up in the fight of her life – everything hinges on the courage to believe in herself enough to release her inner ninja in order to defeat her mortal enemy.
This is a book I found warmed up as it went along. Once the story enters the magical realms of samurai and ninja and the reader is positioned to see Roxy come into her own as she comes to terms with her role in the search for the Tiger Scrolls and White Warrior, the book comes alive. As a Taekwondo aficionado and aesthete, Hall’s depictions of martial art conflict is more than convincing and helps to move the story along at a cracking pace. The text invites the reader to enter into the struggle as the ‘new Roxy’ tries to believe in herself and her ninja powers while battling with the ‘old Roxy’s’ destabilising and impeding tactics.
White Ninja delves into the themes of identity, bullying, self-image, loyalty and transformation. The first in a series, its ending leaves the reader hankering to know what happens next.
Angus & Robertson 2012
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 27, Issue 5, November 2012)