An enjoyable adventure story--the cover calls it a 'real life adventure.' Being aboard a whaling ship in the mid-1800s can't have been half this romantic, but Preus focuses on the personal wonder of being possibly the first Japanese national to live in the USA. All the facts jibe with what I remember from my Japanese History courses umpteen years ago in college. The shift from the Shogunate to the Meiji Restoration opens Japan to foreign contact, and within a few years emissaries from Japan are scouting the Western world for anything and everything that will help put Japan on competitive footing. As historical fiction, the book feels accurate and Preus gives a clear set of sources, and recounts which plot elements were taken directly from historical record.
As biography, I found it less interesting than I hoped for. While Manjiro was a strong central character, I was hoping for more inner conflict and maybe a more 3-dimensional character. I can't tell that Preus wants to tell us something interesting about humanity or explore someone's inner workings as we have come to expect from great fact-based writers for grownups (like Michener or Gore Vidal). Also, there is a clear set of primary sources to draw from--Manjiro's drawings and notebooks. This might have been the thing to focus on to create some post-modern sensibility or character development instead of just the straightforward chronological plot-based story.