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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385739788
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 02/14/2012
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About 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.

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

Reading Group Guide

Orchards (Delacorte/Random House, 2011) is a multilayered novel, dealing with many issues, including identity. Half Japanese and half Jewish-American, Kana has been raised in New York, but her visit to Japan helps her connect with her Japanese roots. The novel also deals with bullying, depression and suicide.

1. Are you bicultural, either by heritage or by circumstances (such as living outside the culture into which you were born)? If yes, how has that shaped you as a person? If no, how do you think being bicultural would affect your sense of identity?


School bullying seems to be universal. Early on, Kana tells her mother that she “didn’t do anything.” Her mother’s response is, “Exactly!” and Kana is sent to her relatives in Japan to reflect on her actions. Do you believe a passive bystander can be as guilty as the person who does the overt bullying? If you've been a bystander to or participated in bullying, what made you behave that way? If you have been subjected to bullying, what did you do about it, if anything?


In the story, it’s revealed that Ruth, the girl who committed suicide, was probably bipolar. Have you had to cope with any form of depression among your friends and family? Has that made you more aware of how others behave and what behaviors might indicate depression? If you have suffered from depression, have you been able to confide in someone and get help?

4. Has anyone you know ever expressed suicidal thoughts? How did you react? Victims of suicide often give warning signs of their risk for suicide—language or actions that indicate depression, acute distress or vulnerability. Suicide can be prevented! In Orchards, what were Ruth and Lisa’s warning signs? What other warning signs do you think Ruth and Lisa might have exhibited? What could you do if a friend gave such warning signs?

5. Jake had become a friend and confidant of Ruth’s. Why do you think this friendship developed? In an email, Jake said to Lisa “Turn yourself into someone/better than you were/that’s all we have to do/that’s all we can do.” What did Jake mean by this? By the end of the story how is Jake now vulnerable?

6. Why do you think author Holly Thompson chose to write from the point of view of Kana, a girl who contributed to the bullying rather than the girl being bullied? In what ways is Ruth present as a character throughout the novel?

7. Why is the novel called Orchards? What roles do the mikan and apple orchards play in the story? What might they symbolize at different points in the story?

8. How do Kana’s relationships with her relatives change over the summer? How do relationships with her peers evolve?

9. What aspects of Japanese culture were revealed in Orchards? Which cultural details interested you the most?

10. Orchards is a novel in verse. How does the verse affect the telling of this story? Do you think Orchards would have the same impact, or be different, if written in prose? 

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