The concept of Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson is great-a secret ninja clan living right in the midst of an erstwhile normal seeming school. A secret ninja club like this is just the kind of thing that gets me super excited. Unfortunately, there are a number of missteps in the book that preclude a recommendation here.
The main character, Chase, is going to a new school, and being the normal kid that he is, is a little nervous about it. That’s why he’s excited to see that run into his cousin, Zoe, at the school. She helps show him around and get him acquainted with everything.
When they are walking on the gym track on the first day of school, they see a weird set of eyes peering out of them from the forest. They are scared and run off, but when they tell Brayden, a kid with a little out of the ordinary persuasions, about it, he suggests that they might be a group of ninjas he has heard rumors about.
Only one way to find out, right? Brayden sticks his hand into the forest, and is pulled in and captured. To Chase and Zoe’s great shock, there actually is a large ninja gang, made up of kids. They release Brayden on the condition that they don’t speak about it to anyone.
It isn’t long before the two get an invitation to become ninjas themselves. Chase is interested; after all, who wouldn’t want to become a ninja? Zoe joins because she views it as a way of helping out her cousin. Brayden warns them that the ninjas are the bad guys, and it isn’t long before they see what he’s talking about.
To become initiated into the group, the leader, a seemingly quiet kid named Wyatt, insists that they steal the purse of one of Zoe’s friends. They go along with it, and Zoe creates a diversion to help Chase snatch the purse.
Afterward, Zoe is having second thoughts about what has happened, and leaves the group despite threats that the ninjas will not allow her to disrespect them. Chase stays on, going against his cousin.
Chase starts turning against the idea of his membership, especially after $3,000 is reported missing from the school. But all his concerns evaporate when presented with a ninja suit. He gladly dons it, and immediately afterwards is instructed to plant Zoe’s backpack in the front office; with the $3,000 in it.
Chase is definitely not about to do that. He enlists the help of Brayden, but it looks bad because he already has the backpack on him. Wyatt and his team show up at the scene, and Chase hurls the backpack at him, spilling the money all across the floor. Wyatt beats up Chase, but it isn’t long before he admits to the crime and is kicked out of the ninjas. Chase is installed as the new ninja.
The premise of this book is awesome, so it’s sad that there are a number of things wrong with the way it shows itself in this book.
First of all, the whole reason the secret ninja club thing is exciting is if it’s a force for good. Or at least ambiguous. Or maybe two different ninja clans, one being more good and one being more bad. Either way, having the only alternative to a stupid ninja club that simply steals stuff be to go to the principal is really not inspiring. I’m hoping that in future books, which have already come out, the club will do awesome things with Chase at the helm, but that definitely wasn’t the case with this one.
The fight scene of the book also makes very little sense. It portrays Chase as having a victory over Wyatt by allowing himself to get beaten up, which to me is extremely stupid. If someone is fighting you, you’ve got to defend yourself. It shows Wyatt getting furious when Chase won’t fight back, which can be true in the sense that it is possible to let another person abuse you so much in a way that you ultimately defeat them by letting their conscience overwhelm them. But most serious bullies, on seeing a defenseless victim who is not going to fight back, will simply go in for the kill. In some cases of mild attacks, simply not letting it get to you means that people will lose interest, but has you on the floor and is wailing on you, it is long past that point. In fact, fighting back aggressively against them may either make them stop, or not pick a fight with you again. Either way, just letting yourself get beat up is not something I would recommend, but the bigger problem in the naive way the author describes this as totally defusing the situation, which is unlikely.
Another thing that makes no sense is that Zoe’s friend just forgives her for stealing her purse and doesn’t even care. Part of the reason according to the book is that there isn’t much of anything valuable in the purse. Nevertheless, if a “friend” steals from me they’re not my friend anymore. Period.
The constant desire of Zoe for her cousin to fit in is also very strange in the way that it’s overemphasized. The fact is that there is no black and white about this, and it’s really not anything too difficult or that should give kids that much undue attention. Sure, a nice cousin will maybe introduce you to some people and stuff, but making friends should be a natural thing, not something to agonize over. I went to several different schools and never worried about this, because I knew I would be alright and it’s just something that happens. Zoe stealing from her friend because of this motivation really doesn’t make sense. The book would’ve been better if Zoe wasn’t thinking like this and it wasn’t such a big plot point throughout the book.
Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja ended by telling us that Chase will be the new leader of the ninjas and may lead them against a “pirate invasion”, which I’m excited to read about. I loved the part of the book where Wyatt attempts to frame Zoe by handing Chase the backpack, putting him in an impossible spot where some intense action is happening. This series has a lot of good potential, and they were some good plusses about this book, even if I can’t recommend it on the whole. I’ll be reading the future books with the hope that some of these problems have been eliminated and that they are truly fun and awesome books to read.
Note: It’s also very noticeable that these books are released solely as ebooks through the Kindle store. Kids ebooks are not typically thought to be a huge market, but these books have enjoyed great success. It’s something for all middle grade writers to take note of, and I’ll be interested to learn more about how Emerson and his co-authors made these books such successes.