Heart of a Samurai

by Margi Preus
301 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by readaholic

Great, well written story but has some description of killing of whales.


Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus was a Newbery Honor book for 2011. The story takes place in 1841 and is based on a true story. It's about a 14-year-old boy named Manjiro who is with four friends fishing when a huge storm hits, and they end up getting stranded on a deserted island. As food begins to run out and things are getting desperate, they are rescued--but by barbarians (what Manjiro has been taught white men are). As Manjiro and his friends are taken on board by the kind captain, Manjiro finds that these men are not barbarians and he becomes very interested in the world outside Japan. The book chronicles Manjiro's travels and his dream to one day return home.


Manjiro has both an adult bully and a peer bully who make fun of him for his Japanese appearance, language difficulties, and other things.

The ship Manjiro is on is a whaling ship, so they describe the process of killing whales. Manjiro struggles with the idea of killing whales because in his country, they do it only for necessity and ask forgiveness of the animal, but the white men do it with more brutality.

Someone sets up Manjiro to make it look like he stole something, and Manjiro struggles with how to be seen as honest.

Spiritual Content

Manjiro and his friends are from Japan and are not Christian. Manjiro speaks of Christian missionaries as being banned from Japan because they try to change their customs and ways. In a visit to Hawaii, Manjiro also learns about how the Christian missionaries think that the hula and other such dances are evil.

Manjiro refers to "gods" (with respect).


There are descriptions of the death of whales and turtles on the whaling ship. The description explains the blood, etc. An American father gets upset at his son and hits him. The son has a black eye because of his father. Some of the sailors threaten Manjiro and his friend.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A character is drunk at one point and threatens Manjiro. There is beer around on the ship.

Sexual Content

When he goes to America, Manjiro is surprised by how men and women in the western culture will touch in public. (In Japan, this would not happen.) He thinks about kissing a girl he likes, and she tells her friends she wouldn't mind kissing him.

Crude or Profane Language or Content



This is a very good book. First of all, it's based on a true story (explained in the epilogue and historical note at the end), which is really fascinating. The book also has very likable characters and an interesting and changing story that kept me reading. It was very well written and just a good book. Even though there are some issues in the content as explained in this review, Manjiro is a good boy (as far as that goes in human terms), and he addresses many of the negative aspects through his point of view. Good overcomes the bad.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: 11-12

Review Rating:

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