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5.0 1
by Holly Thompson

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Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on


Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family's mikan orange groves.
Kana's mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana's father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—After a classmate commits suicide, Kana, a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American eighth grader, is sent to her maternal grandmother's farm in rural Japan for personal reflection. Kana tells her story in poignantly straightforward verse directed at the deceased classmate as she struggles with blame and regret, wondering if she and her friends are responsible because they took part in ostracizing the girl. She struggles, too, with her biracial, bicultural identity, feeling isolated in her new surroundings. Tentative at first, Kana reacquaints herself with her extended family and gains a sense of purpose and belonging from toiling in their mikan orange groves. Her journey toward self-discovery is deftly balanced with an undercurrent of tension as she gradually reveals the events that drove her bullied classmate to hang herself in an orchard back home. When another tragedy strikes, Kana realizes that although the past can't be mended, she can take an active role in shaping the future, and the story concludes on a beautiful note of hope. The narrative is rich in authentic cultural detail and is complemented by attractive woodcut illustrations of Japanese imagery to evoke the story's setting. Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
Publishers Weekly
Writing in free verse, Thompson (Ash) eloquently captures a teenager's anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. Weeks after Ruth, a bullied eighth-grader, hangs herself in an orchard, the girls who tormented her scatter in different directions, "like beads/ from a necklace/ snapped." Against her wishes, Kana is sent to stay with relatives in her mother's homeland of Japan. Although she's a misfit, with half-Jewish genes and a curvy figure, she is accepted by her extended family and gradually adjusts to the routines and rigors of farm life at her uncle's home. Conciliation doesn't necessarily come through words, but through small gestures of kindness and understanding, brought to life in Thompson's understated yet potent verse. McFerrin's spot illustrations of Japanese imagery (Mount Fuji, origami birds, lanterns) appear intermittently, but feel extraneous and a bit juvenile given the subject matter. Written from Kana's point of view and directed toward Ruth, the novel—moving between Kana's flashbacks, reflections, and moments of discovery—effectively traces her emotional maturation as her desire to move forward is rekindled. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, March 2011:
"Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss."

Review, Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2011:
“Eloquently captures a teenager’s anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. . . . Understated yet potent verse.”

Review, Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2011:
“A fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide.”

Review, Booklist, January 1, 2011:
“Readers will want to talk about the big issues, especially the guilt of doing nothing.”
Review, VOYA,
“Compelling. . . . Teens who enjoy learning about other cultures will relish Thompson’s ability to evoke the sights, smells, and tastes of Japan, while poetry fans will enjoy the novel’s unique format.”

Review, The Winston-Salem Journal, March 20, 2011:
"This lyrical look at bullying and the afterschocks of suicide may be gut-wrenching, but Orchards is crafted with a sensitive beauty."

VOYA - Leah Sparks
In this compelling novel-in-verse, thirteen-year-old Kana Goldberg is sent from her New York home to spend the summer with her barely remembered grandparents and cousins in Shizuoka, Japan. There she studies in a local school and works in the family's orange groves while trying to assimilate given her half-Japanese, half-Jewish American heritage. Kana narrates her story of Ruth, an eighth-grade classmate who committed suicide after heckling from Kana's friend, Lisa, and whose death is why Kana was sent away. Both ashamed and confused by her clique's role in Ruth's death, Kana wonders if it would have made a difference if she and her classmates had known of Ruth's depression and had been more compassionate. As the summer progresses, she settles into the rhythm of life in her family's rural village and makes tentative steps toward healing by reaching out to Ruth's only friend and trying to reconnect with her own friends. Just when it seems her efforts are paying off, Kana is sent reeling by the news of Lisa's suicide and must find a way to honor both Ruth and Lisa using what she has learned from her Japanese summer. First-time YA author and American expatriate Holly Thompson has lived and written in Japan for many years. Through her flowing, poetic verse, Thompson expertly depicts the dualism in Kana, who misses her modern New York life but is also drawn to her family's traditional Japanese customs. Teens who enjoy learning about other cultures will relish Thompson's ability to evoke the sights, smells, and tastes of Japan, while poetry fans will enjoy the novel's unique format. Reviewer: Leah Sparks
Kirkus Reviews
After a friend hangs herself, biracial 14-year-old Kana Golberg is shipped out to her family in Japan to work in the sweltering heat tending to theirmikanorange groves. There, Kana is immersed in the world her mother left behind for her Jewish father, but still she remains haunted by her friend's death—could she have prevented it? Thompson composes simple, neat lines of verse that drive the plot perhaps more than they appeal to the senses. At times the individual poems begin to feel formulaic, as the first three quarters of many poems recount Kana's thoughts and the day's events, and the last fourth finds her wondering about her dead friend. This isn't always the case, however, and the author finds moments to meld the two trajectories, especially when Kana ventures off the farm with her family. That said, the imagery of Kana's surroundings threatens to overwhelm characterizations: "we / walk along other docks / following the high tide line / to where the shore gets wider / and sit down in an arc of shade / made from a rise of sandstone cliff ..." Nevertheless, this first young adult outing is a fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide.(Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Because of You

One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope
into your backpack
and walked uphill into
Osgoods' orchard
where blooms were still closed fists

my father looked up
summer airfares
to Tokyo

I protested
it wasn't my fault
I didn't do anything!

my mother hissed
and made the call
to her older sister
my aunt
in Shizuoka

nothing would change
their minds

all my mother
would say
as I followed her
through garden beds
transplanting cubes of seedlings
she'd grown under lights
in hothouses

all she'd say
row after row
in tight-lipped
you can reflect
in the presence of your ancestors

not that I'm alone
in being sent away-- 
Lisa's off to summer school
Becca to Bible camp
Mona to cousins in Quebec
Emily to help in her uncle's store
Erin to math camp
Abby to some adventure program
Noelle to her father's
Gina to her mother's
Namita to New Jersey . . .
all twenty-nine
eighth-grade girls
scattered, as Gina said,
like beads
from a necklace

but we weren't a necklace
strung in a circle
we were more
an atom:
arranged in shells
around Lisa,
Becca and Mona
first shell solid,
the rest of us
in orbitals farther out
less bound
less stable
and you--
in the least stable
most vulnerable
outermost shell

you sometimes
hovered near
sometimes drifted off
some days were hurled far
from Lisa
our nucleus
whose biting wit made us
around her
always close to her
indifferent to orbits
like yours
farther out than

after you were
found in the grove
of Macs and Cortlands
that were still tight fists
of not-yet-bloom
and the note was found
on your dresser
by your mother
who brought it to the principal
who shared it with police
who called for an investigation
and pulled in counselors
from all over the district

word got around

and people in town
began to stare
and talk
and text
about our uncaring

I don't think I
did anything to drive you
to perfect slipknots
or learn to tie a noose . . .
with what?
I wonder
backpack cords?
drawstrings in your gym shorts
as you waited for your turn
at the softball bat?

because of you, Ruth,
I'm exiled
to my maternal grandmother, Baachan,
to the ancestors at the altar
and to Uncle, Aunt and cousins
I haven't seen in three years--
not since our last trip back
for Jiichan's funeral
when Baachan
told my sister Emi
she was just right
but told me
I was fat
should eat
fill myself eighty percent
no more
each meal

but then I was small
then I didn't have hips
then was before this bottom
inherited from my father's
Russian Jewish mother

my mother was
of four children born
to my grandparents
mikan orange farmers
in a Shizuoka village of sixty households
where eldest son
inherits all

but there were
no sons
in her generation
so my aunt
eldest daughter
took in a husband who
took on the Mano name
took over the Mano holdings
became sole heir
head of household
my uncle

into my suitcase
my mother has stuffed
dish towels
framed photos of Emi and me
last year's raspberry jam
pancake mix
maple syrup--
and ten books for me to finish
by September

books she didn't pick
I know
because she only reads novels
in Japanese
and these ten are
in English--
books chosen by a librarian
or teacher
or other mother
with themes of
         reaching out
I want to shout

she also changed dollars
into yen
and divided bills
into three envelopes
labeled in Japanese--
one for spending
one for transportation and school fees
one with gift money for Buddhist ceremonies
to honor her father--my Jiichan,
this third summer
since the year
of his passing

the nonstop flight to Narita
is thirteen hours
door to door
my home in New York
to theirs in Shizuoka
is a full twenty-four

on the plane there is
time . . .
for movies
journal entries

I have never been to
Japan alone
never traveled anywhere alone
except sleepovers
and overnight camp
for a week in Vermont

on the plane
flight attendants chat with me
unaccompanied minor
praise my language abilities
assume it's a
happy occasion
my returning
to the village of my mother's childhood
for the summer

but they don't know
what I know, Ruth--
that it's all
because of you

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

HOLLY THOMPSON was raised in New England, earned her B.A. in biology from Mount Holyoke College and her M.A. in English from New York University. A long-time resident of Japan, she teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Orchards 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
iCarlyGleek More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 2 days and I was truly impressed! I could not put it down! I absolutely love verse/poetry books and this one has to be one of my favorites! Highly recommended! :)