Middle-Grade Review: THE LEGENDARY MO SETO by Ay Chan

 

About This Book:

A fast-paced, high-kicking debut that’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Stand Up, Yumi Chung as a young taekwondo artist uses an ancient book to help save her dreams—and her father.

 

Twelve-year-old Modesty “Mo” Seto dreams of being a taekwondo champion. Even though her mom disapproves, Mo can always count on her dad, who is her number one fan and biggest supporter. Lately, Mo has been on a losing streak, and it doesn’t help that she keeps losing to her archnemesis, Dax, who’s much bigger than her. If only she were faster, stronger, not so petite. Mo can’t even lean on her dad like usual with how distracted he’s been lately.

When Mo learns about the chance to audition to star alongside her idol and legendary martial artist and movie star Cody Kwok, she knows this her chance to prove to her dad, to the world, and to herself that she can compete with anyone, no matter her size. Unfortunately, Dax is auditioning, too. As Mo and her nemesis progress to callbacks, someone attempts to sabotage the movie set and Mo’s dad disappears—and both events seem linked to a mysterious book, the Book of Joy.

The book contains information on Xiaoxi Fu, a secret dance-like martial art developed by Mo’s ancestral grandmother. Armed with these secret moves and an unexpected ally, Mo embarks on a high-octane adventure to rescue her father, save the movie, and discover an unexpected joy in being small.

 

*Review Contributed By Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

Martial Arts and Movie Mayhem

Modesty “Mo” Seto is twelve, and hugely involved in Taekwondo. She is especially small for her age, so finds it hard to compete with people like Dax, who is larger. When she is momentarily distracted by her father stepping outside during her competition, Dax exploits her weakness, and she ends up with second place in the tournament. This is all part of a downward slide that has her worried, but when she finds out that there is an open audition for a role in a film starring her idol, martial arts expert Cody Kwok, she thinks that it is a way to redeem herself. With her father having to go to China for work, she knows that her busy mother will not sign the permission form, so she and her best friend Ingnacio “Nacho” Garcia, try to sneak in and get an early audition. Mo is distraught to discover that she doesn’t meet the heighth requirement, but the casting director thinks Nacho would be perfect and gives him an audition folder for a call back. Using memory foam and Play-Doh in her shoes to make herself taller, swathed in a number of sweatshirts to make her seems bulkier, and wearing a ballcap to disguise herself, she shows up for the next call. At home, tensions are high because her mother wants her to pursue more feminine pursuits like embroidery or maybe ballet. Mo has also uncovered some old documents when cleaning out the basement, and begins to realize that an ancestor was a practioner of xiaoxi fu, a martial art based on a mythical small female warrior that includes many elements of dance. In a phone call, her father warns her that this is not for her, and her m other tries to take away the book. This doesn’t stop Mo from making a copy and practicing a lot of the moves. When she needs a parent at the audition training, she manages to finagle Nacho’s grandfather into coming. Things don’t go well; she’s accused of putting itching powder in equipment, and the set has several accidents, including some with Cody Kwok, whom Mo is thrilled to meet. Despite all odds, Mo manages to advance, and starts to work with her nemesis, Dax, on figuring out why bad things are happening. She finds out secrets about the planned film, as well as some about her family and their involvement with martial arts. Will she be able to overcome all of her shortcomings and get a role in the film?

Good Points
It was fun to see a tiny twelve year old portrayed, especially because I once was one myself! There are many girls this age who are under five feet tall, like Mo, and it can lead to some difficulties. Mo’s interest in martial arts is good to see, and I love how Nacho supports her even when her mother (for reasons that are later revealed as solid) does not. Many middle school students would love to be in films and meet their idols, so Mo’s interactions with Cody Kwok are fascinating, especially when she learns that he is not necessarily everything the media have purported him to be. There’s a decent mystery with the father and the family secrets as well.There are very few books about martial arts, except for Dutton’s Jiu-Jitsu Girl, and many students who are involved in the sport, so this will definitely have an audience.

I’m not that tall myself, so it stretched credulity a bit to think that Mo could add four or five inches to her height by putting things in her shoes, and I wasn’t too thrilled with her mother not knowing about what she was doing, but younger readers won’t mind. I was just glad that BOTH of her parents were involved in the story in fun ways, and involving Nacho’s grandfather was a great choice as well.

This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed books that include martial arts, like Tashjian’s My Life as a Ninja, or stories where children engage in subterfuge to follow their passions, like Kim’s Stand Up, Yumi Chung.

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