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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.

Editorial Reviews

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.)
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)
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."

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

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
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 talk-down do-as-I-say
Japanese was
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 snapped

but we weren't a necklace strung in a circle we were more an atom:
electrons 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 laugh
                     revolve around her always close to her indifferent to orbits like yours farther out than ours

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 generation

I don't think I
personally did anything to drive you to perfect slipknots or learn to tie a noose . . .
with what?
I wonder shoelaces?
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 less 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 youngest 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 gifts—
socks 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 but 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 books journal entries meals magazines movies sleep meals magazines sleep boredom apprehension

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

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.

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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! :)