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.)
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
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)
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.”
“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."
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