A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will pick up useful phrases of Japanese, lots of knowledge about modern and older Japanese culture, art, and the art world, and the ins and outs of manga (Japanese comics).
Like most 16-year-olds, Violet doesn't always make ideal choices, and in low-level matters there are no real consequences -- as when she and her friend Reika pig out on the contents of a gift basket intended for their hosts. But in most respects, both Violet and those close to her have a strong sense of responsibility, and they all learn a lot about seeing things from one another's point of view. The power of love and friendship comes through, as well as a few lessons about not jumping to conclusions about people too soon.
Positive Role Models
Even the positive characters are complex enough to be believable. Violet is smart, brave, and talented, but that doesn't keep her from being completely wrong sometimes. Her pal Reika is a true, dependable friend, when she isn't losing her mind because there's a cute guy in the room. Her dad, who's childish and self-absorbed at the beginning of the story, comes through as an artist and as a father when there's a crisis. And the mysterious innkeeper turns out to be a lady of hidden qualities.
Violence & Scariness
Early on, Violet's dad gets in a brief, comical fist fight with another guy over a girl they're both interested in. There are various robberies, burglaries, and break-ins, as well as a kidnapping. The Japanese art collectors are being threatened with violence to property and people's lives over a missing painting. Decades earlier, the last person to possess the painting committed suicide -- or was he murdered? Now thugs are after Violet, her dad, and their Japanese friends. There's one scene with a lot of gunfire, but nobody dies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some brief, nonsexual discussion of nudity in the (same-sex) public baths in Japan. There's also a scene in which the girls glimpse the tattooed back of a bathing yakuza, but his back is all they see. Some kissing between Violet and her love interest.
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Products & Purchases
Anyone who's ever been to Japan will get a kick out of Violet's discovery of brands like Pokkari Sweat, electronics heaven in the Akihabara, and fractured English slogans.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults, especially Japanese men, smoke. Drinking by adults, and there's one scene in which the girls are happy to get away with drinking sake at a dinner party. Violet is quite wobbly getting down the hall on her way back to her room afterward.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that teen heroine Violet and her friend Reika are sometimes in real danger in Tokyo Heist, since they've gotten mixed up with a missing Van Gogh painting sought by the yakuza (an organized crime syndicate in Japan). There's a comical fist fight, various robberies, burglaries, and break-ins, a kidnapping, and Japanese art collectors are threatened with violence to property and people's lives over the missing painting. There's one scene with a lot of gunfire, but nobody dies. Along the way, both the girls and young readers learn a lot about art, Japanese culture, people, and the ways your loved ones can surprise you.
Is It Any Good?
TOKYO HEIST is a gem, hip enough to appeal to teens -- especially the more artistic, cosmopolitan ones -- but also incredibly well-crafted. It offers so many surprises and interesting characters that those teens’ mystery-loving parents will probably go for it, too.
First-time novelist Diana Renn's writing is topnotch, and she keeps plot complications in play quite deftly. Violet, a smart, creative child of single parents, is appealing and true to life; she's often more adult than her artist father, but both of them learn a lot about themselves and each other in the course of their adventures.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.