The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

From the back cover:
Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same t-shirt for a month or telling people to call him “Captain Dwight.” This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that’s when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It’s crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda’s advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy’s case file of his investigation into “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.”

If you had asked me to sum up The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in one word, my initial answer would have simply been “cute.” When I first finished it, I was left with a pleasant impression but wasn’t sure I had too much to say about it. After a period of mulling, however, I realized that, even if the story itself is fairly straightforward, Angleberger does some interesting things with the way he tells it.

“The big question,” protagonist Tommy begins, “is Origami Yoda real?” The weirdest kid in sixth grade, Dwight, has made an origami Yoda finger puppet, which seems to dispense good advice even though Dwight himself is a big spaz. Tommy compiles a case file of students’ interactions with Yoda in an effort to determine if he’s for real and, therefore, if his advice concerning the girl that Tommy likes should be followed or if it will lead to total humiliation. He allows his friends to add comments and doodles, giving the book a bit of flair.

Origami Yoda offers advice on various topics, like helping a boy not burst into angry tears whenever he strikes out in softball, or helping another kid live down an unwelcome nickname (“Cheeto Hog”). Each chapter recounts a different incident, and though they are nominally written by different students, there is no discernible difference in narrative voice, except in the case of Harvey, Tommy’s obnoxious friend.

Angleberger doesn’t spell out the answer concerning Yoda’s authenticity in detail, but he does show that Tommy gradually gets fed up of Harvey “criticizing everything and everybody all the time” and realizes that he would rather be friends with Dwight, even if he is an oddball. Everyone probably has a toxic friend like Harvey at some point and must make the difficult decision to stop associating with them, and I thought Angleberger handled Tommy’s revelation in this regard rather well.

He also incorporates themes of inclusion and tolerance with subtlety. At no point, for example, is a racial characteristic ever assigned for any of these characters. We know that Tommy is short with unruly hair, Harvey is perpetually smirking, and Kellen is thin, but that’s it. Too, one of the female characters is described as “cute and cool” before it’s revealed a few paragraphs later that she also happens to be deaf. True, characterization doesn’t go much deeper than this for anyone, but I still appreciated the lack of preachiness.

Again, I come back to the idea that The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a cute read, but I reckon late elementary Star Wars fans would have fun with it. A sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back (in which Harvey is out for revenge), is due out next month.

Additional reviews of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda can be found at Triple Take.

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