Friday, March 30, 2012
The daughter of a Japanese mother and a Jewish father, Kana Goldberg is a member of a crew of eighth grade girls who are scattered after the suicide of a classmate. Kana is sent to live with her grandmother's family on a mikan (orange) farm in Japan. In a new culture, Kana has become the outsider and has time to dwell on the way her clique treated Ruth after she is seen talking with a boy that their leader likes.
The entire novel is written as Kana addressing Ruth, sorting through what could have been and how it has changed her. Kana's emotions are realistic: anger, shame, and regret are only a few that she cycles through. Through her emails with her friends, she realizes that everyone processes Ruth's death in their own way, but they are all forever affected:
"all of us complain
only a little
I think we will always complain
only a little
after what happened
Having lived in Japan for a year, I love reading books that include Japanese culture. Holly Thompson has lived in Japan for over sixteen years and did extensive research into mikan farming. Reading Orchards was like stepping back into my days in Japan--the imagery had me tasting the food, smiling at the manners and respect shown to elders, and wishing I could attend the matsuri, summer festivals, again. Although Kana speaks Japanese and understands the culture more than I ever will, I could relate to her initial awkwardness as she tries to fit in. Like everything else in this novel, it felt authentic.
Orchards is a novel that will appeal to bicultural students, Japanophiles, readers who have lost a loved one, poetry fans, and anyone who has struggled to fit in...almost anyone could find something to love here.