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
Sales rank: 796,253
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? 

Customer Reviews

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Orchards 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
MarthaL on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Easy to read because of the poetic nature of the text. This tragic coming of age story is reminescent of Hess's Out of the Dust in the style of writing and the serious nature of the book. Although she touches on the suicide of the main character's friend the author's provision of the embracing extended Japanese family in an orchard of Japan brings healing and growth. Very highly recommended for teen book discussion and bibliotherapy.
LauraMoore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't heard very much about this novel, until I won it off Random Buzzers. I was excited to see that it was written in verse and that the book was filled with beautiful illustrations. It was a very quick read, and it was different from anything else i've ever read. This Story was about a girl named Kana Goldberg, who after the suicide of a schoolmate is sent to her relatives in Japan. Kana feels guilty about Ruth's suicide due too some things that were said by her friends to Ruth, and spends her summer contemplating what influence her and her friends had on Ruth's suicide. She is starting to feel at home in her native Japan after much hesitance about wanting to go away for the summer at all. She's starting to feel at home until news from back home sends her into a spiral all over again. This story was fast-paced, and i really enjoyed it. It was beautifully written, and hopefully recieves much more praises in the near future. It not only had very thought-provoking issues, but also had very beautifully written poetry, that made you not want to put the book down!
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kana is sent to spend the summer with her mother's family in Japan after one of her classmates hangs herself. It seems the perception is that the callousness of the 8th grade girls, particularly the center of the social universe, Lisa, is one of the causes of Ruth's suicide. As she learns about life in Japan and her extended family, she also copes with the grief and ideas about her culpability in Ruth's death. As she grows stronger, she reaches out to other people in her social circle. The sparse verse tells a powerful story.
storiesandsweeties on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first foray into the world of books written in verse. I admit, I was a little hesitant at first. But as far as Orchards is concerned, it was amazing. The rhythm of the words fit the subject and tone this story was trying to get across just perfectly. This book is described as being written in spare yet evocative verse, and they weren't kidding. There was, on average, about twenty lines of verse on each page. With this writing method, you seem to get more of a "feel" for what is going on, rather than the full behind-the-scenes details that you would in a regular novel. It's not a bad thing, but there were times during reading when I felt like I wanted to know more---more about Kana, more about her parent's story, more about what led to Ruth's suicide. Then, strangely enough, when I turned the last page, the story felt complete and satisfying, like any detail that I had wanted to know before was somehow insignificant now.You get to know Kana, the main character, slowly and intimately, through her words to Ruth, her classmate who committed suicide after being bullied by the, more or less, leader of Kana's group of friends. This is how the story is told, through Kana's voice as she addresses Ruth, telling her about being sent to stay with her grandmother in Japan to "reflect in the presence of her ancestors", and talking to Ruth about what they all could have done differently as she works through her grief and her anger and her guilt. The story itself is haunting and heart-wrenching, the descriptions of the Japanese culture and surroundings are enchanting and lush, and the subject is so incredibly poignant at this day and age when bullying and teen suicide are unfortunately such timely issues.
booktwirps on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After a bi-polar classmate¿s suicide caused by bullying, Kana is sent to live in Japan for the summer with her mother¿s relatives. It was Kana¿s friend Lisa that did a majority of the bullying, but Kana never did anything to stop is and it is weighing on her. While in Japan, she is to attend summer school, read a stack of books her mother sent with her, and help her mother¿s family tend to their mikan orange groves. Kana is half Jewish and half Japanese and quickly finds herself an outsider in her summer school. She is bigger than the other girls, and being only half Japanese, she looks different. In the beginning, Kana blames Ruth. If it hadn¿t been for her suicide, Kana wouldn¿t be in Japan for the summer. She would be back in New York with her family and friends. She blames Ruth for not speaking out, not telling anyone about her disorder. If she had, maybe things would have been different. During her months away, Kana vacillates between anger, sadness and regret over what happened. Eventually, she comes to terms with the event. She opens up more to her family, and begins to enjoy her summer, looking forward to going home and starting high school. That all changes when she receives news about another tragedy which changes her life even more.Orchards is written in free-verse which suits the novel well. Had it been written in prose, I¿m afraid it would have been mired down in unnecessary description and would have possibly stripped this moving novel of its heart. Though it does deal with tough subject matter, the author handles it very well. The book is told entirely from Kana¿s point of view as she speaks to Ruth, now dead, about her feelings and what she has to go through because of what happened. I felt this added a nice touch and added a depth to the book it may not have had otherwise. The characters are strong, the verse is well-crafted and the story is engaging. All in all it is a satisfying read.(Review copy courtesy of Book Diva¿s)
usagijihen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I saw this book at the library, I knew I just had to read it. I love fiction that¿s written in free verse (¿Sharp Teeth¿ would be the best example of this that I¿ve encountered so far) ¿ it¿s rare to find, but even rarer to find within the confines of YA fiction alone. ¿Sharp Teeth¿, meet your new rival, ¿Orchards¿.This book deals with several issues all at once ¿ being bicultural, bullying, suicide, and death. And I usually try to avoid books like these because there is rarely a new voices strong enough to attention to these issues long enough for people to notice.But this book is very different. Thompson took a huge risk by writing this in free verse instead of traditional fiction structure. She took a double risk with creating a character based on friends and family and her own experiences in Japan ¿ a bicultural teenage girl ¿ when she herself is not ethnically mixed (or so it seems ¿ correct me if I¿m wrong on this one). But you know what? Because she has thorough knowledge of both cultures, these risks pay off, big time. Because she did research and has experience with her subject, it makes Kanako that more alive, that more real. She could be your neighbor or acquaintance at school, talking on Facebook about her experiences over the summer at her matrilininal ancestral home.And at the same time, her friends could also be the kids you know down the street. The grief she experiences could be the subject of gossip you discuss in whispers with your own friends. And Thompson is not afraid to impress this on her audience. She says it best in this scene with Baachan and Kanako:¿suicide can spreadBaachan finally saysutsuru she addslike a virusyou have to stop itput up barriers (page 285, hardcover edition)¿The idea of suicide virii in Japan is nothing new (tons of pieces of popular culture can back this up), and I thought it was particularly skilled of Thompson to extend this idea to her audience ¿ an American YA audience with little to no knowledge of this urban legend outside of movies like ¿The Ring¿ or anime. Thompson really helps her audience understand the idea that suicide IS a virus but moreover, it¿s a virus vectored by bullying and guilt among the ignorant. This is a masterful work and only through this idea in Japanese culture, I think I can safely say, can really convey the vicious cycle of bullying and suicide within a particular group of people that know each other.This book NEEDS to be made mandatory reading for all American middle and high schools. The bullying epidemic is out of control (though in Japan, it¿s just as bad, if not worse), and we need to put up barriers, strengthen our immune systems against this vector and the result, the suicide virus.If you want a book that doesn¿t sugarcoat this subject yet brings it to the table in a fresh, new, and unforgettable way, this is the book for you. Arguably one of my top ten of 2011 so far.(crossposted to goodreads, shelfari, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
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! :)