The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Tom Angleberger)

The Plot
Tommy isn’t exactly the coolest boy in the sixth grade, but he knows he’s cooler than Dwight. Which is why it’s so very confusing when Dwight, who has committed many crimes against coolness, produces an origami Yoda. And not just any origami Yoda, but a Yoda who gives great advice (if in a poor imitation of the actual Yoda’s voice). If Dwight is so incredibly out of the loop, how does Yoda do it? Is the Force really at work here or is it something else?

My Thoughts
The title of this book alone made it required reading, and then the cover (with its picture of an origami Yoda made by the author) just clinches the deal. But other than those things and the cover blurb, I didn’t have much more information about it going in.

The setting is a U.S. middle school, a fairly liberal one, as the kids seem to have plenty of time to congregate out of class (not a feature of the junior high I went to – though at least we still got a long enough lunch to have some recess time after eating). Tommy is a kind of middle of the road kid, perhaps on the less popular side of average, and his friends mostly occupy the same social stratum. Dwight is a boy on the fringe of their group — he’s considered borderline acceptable even by them, due to his behaviors and habits which are considered odd by the other kids.

Dwight, however, doesn’t seem to care or notice that he’s looked down upon by the others. He seems oblivious for the most part to the horror he creates when he wears a weird outfit or eats his food in an odd fashion, or talks to a girl without agonizing over it. It’s not clear to me as a reader if Dwight is meant to be socially awkward and unaware of the views of others or if he’s completely aware of their shock, but is just above petty social games and confident enough in himself to behave the way he wants. In the end it may not matter (we spend the book in Tommy’s head, not Dwight’s) but it’s an interesting question which I don’t entirely feel was resolved.

One day, Dwight shows up having made a Yoda out of origami. He puts it on his finger and does a Yoda imitation and thus proceeds to give advice to the others. Most of the time, this advice seems to be very wise, and most of the other kids find this completely incompatible with their view of Dwight as clueless. (Though it fits better with the possible second view of Dwight which none of them have entertained.) Tommy is one of the most concerned by this seeming divergence from expectations (perhaps because it forces him to think he may have mislabeled and underestimated Dwight?) and so he attempts to compile a dossier of the advice Yoda has given and the results which ensued.

The various scenarios presented are all reasonable, realistic and all that (well, maybe — do they really still have middle school dances? they were lame 20 years ago and not many people went), and the premise is a fine one. The only place where the story falls down a bit is in the fact that all the kids (except for Tommy’s cynical “friend” Harvey, who as far as this story actually has an antagonist, is it) sound exactly the same, even though we’re supposed to be getting stories from a variety of perspectives. Perhaps the stories are meant to have been filtered through Tommy before being written down. I’m not sure. But I would have liked to have seen a bit more variety in voice.

The other issue I had was with the girls. And in the context of the story, it’s not really a fault, it’s just a POV that’s so common I’d really like to see some effort to make it new again. And that is the view of girls as alien beings impossible to comprehend, a view which most of the boys seem to share. I’m not sure how one would make this new, but I do know it wasn’t exactly ‘new’ here.

Overall, this was a pleasant little story. By the end, Tommy seems to have learned a lesson, everyone is happy (except Harvey) and it ends on a feel good note. There is a sequel coming, which I find I’m actually interested to read, because it seems like it’s going to focus on Harvey and his reaction to all of these events.

In Short
Though The Strange Case of Origami Yoda doesn’t exactly break new ground in tween books, it’s still a decent story with some interesting characters. I really like the idea of the origami Yoda, and really it was that which attracted me to the book in the first place. (And shows what you can do with a kickass title.) Though most of the characters felt pretty generic, Dwight and Harvey (and to a certain extent Caroline, a hearing impaired student just slipped in there for no moral value at all — nice work!!) stood out as being unique constructs. I’ll be picking up the sequel to see what happens next.

Origami Yoda
Edited to add my not so great attempt at making this version of Origami Yoda. The only origami paper I could find in the house was small and rainbow colored, neither of which helped.

[Yoda uses the force to prevent his picture being taken]

[Yoda’s force powers are overcome by sunlight]


J’s Take on The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Origami Yoda CoverThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger isn’t exactly what I was expecting. But it was surprising in a good way.

I thought it would be shorter. I also thought it would be paperback. It’s not overly long, but it wasn’t something I could read on one bus trip or lunch break. And it’s a very nice hardcover. Reminds me of the Doctor Who tie-in novels and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities which you should totally buy, yo. A very nice look and feel to it.

Also, how can you resist that origami Yoda on the cover?!

For bonus points, I read this while listening to Weird Al’s “Yoda”. Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda.

This book is laid out as case files, as the main character, Tommy, tries to work out if Origami Yoda is magic, or what. Origami Yoda is a Yoda origami puppet that a strange classmate of his, Dwight, made and designed himself. He wears it around on his finger and it gives sage advice to those who ask. In a bad Yoda voice with questionable Yoda syntax. (But the book makes a point of pointing that out!)

Other classmates have contributed to the case files, and added their thoughts and comments. And doodles.

I really have very little negative to say about this book. I liked that the pages were all crinkly (well, the design on them was of crinkly paper, the paper wasn’t actually crinkly). There are little tie fighters and X-wing fighters in the corners of the pages. The doodles are believably drawn by a kid, and funny! The one of the squirrels struck me particularly.

The book was just geeky enough for me, with Star Wars references, Shakespeare quotes, mention of Tycho Brahe. There are girls in here who don’t come off as idiots. (Although they do seem the goal of most of the male characters.) There’s even a hard-of-hearing girl, though she doesn’t get to write a case file herself.

So to my two problems with the book. First, the kids are in sixth grade, and they seem rather obsessed with girls and a PTA Fun Night dance that happens every month. That’s not the sixth grade I remember. (Though admittedly I am far from typical.) I wonder if it’s because it’s part of a middle school, whereas my sixth grade was still elementary school.

My origami Yoda
Imagination you must use


The other is the origami Yoda instructions at the back. I was worried I couldn’t follow them well, but in the end, I think I came out with a decent origami Yoda. I didn’t cut the paper in half and in half like it said, so he’s a large origami Yoda. He’s also not green.

Buuuut… it’s also not the Yoda(s) in the book. If you expect to make one like the Yoda on the cover, you’ll be disappointed. I wish the author had included two different versions of Yoda instructions. One easy one and one more complex one that looks nicer. I probably would’ve failed to make the good one properly, but hey.. I could try!


There’s a sequel out soon (already?) and I’m rather interested in seeing the return of the origami Jedi.


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.