Gadget Girl by Suzanne Kamata is one of the smartest and fun books I’ve read. It’s thoughtful, quirky, and very well-written. It’s told in the first person-perspective of Aiko Cassidy who has cerebral palsy and pursues a dream of becoming a manga artist. I loved Aiko’s voice- perky, creative, at times insecure, at times impatient, all while mixing in teenage angst and questions of identity. Like many a writer or artist, she finds solace in her work:
“Yeah, I could tell them how I hated physical therapy as a child, how I once flailed so badly while trying to get away that I broke my therapist’s glasses. Or how I always got picked last for the teams and how my classmates called me names and made fun of my walking. But who wants to hear all these sad stories? Isn’t it way more fun to read about fire-breathing dragons and magic elixirs? Boomerang bottle openers and wind-powered whisks? I’d rather stick to Gadget Girl.”
Gadget Girl is the manga character that Aiko has created, and as creator, she wonders over how many “web hits” she received and gets excited as people come to enjoy her work (though she keeps her identity as the creator anonymous due to fears of what people might think). Through the course of the book, many of the characters have arcs with the main one being the relationship between Aiko and her famous artist mother. They have a complex relationship, one of dependence, like any child, while also yearning for her own identity. Aiko really wants to see her father who left without even knowing her mother had been pregnant. So when her mother wins a big award, Aiko’s reaction is:
“This is great news, after all. She’s finally getting international exposure, and she won a lot of money, but why couldn’t she use some of her stash to go to Japan? I mean, without me posing for her, she wouldn’t have won anything, right? So why can’t she think about what I want for a change?”
There’s two separate love interests, a trip to France, her desire to meet with her father, her best friend Whitney who dresses herself up after favorite movie characters, and a whole lot more. There were so many little details Kamata expresses to create an authentic experience that makes you really root for Aiko. In Gadget Girl’s origin story, she gulped “down a shooting star” and was “endowed with superhuman strength and extreme precision.” Part of the journey that makes Gadget Girl so compelling is Aiko’s transition from longing for what she doesn’t have to acceptance of what she does, from hiding her secret identity to realizing that she too has superpowers, albeit of a different kind, but no less impressive.