Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Published: February 2011
Source: Personal Library
I remember seeing Orchards by Holly Thompson on a few blogs I followed. Attracted by the lovely cover but more so intrigued by the plot, I decided to get a copy. When my copy arrived, I was a little surprised to find that it was written in free verse instead of a novel format. Since I have never read a book written in free verse (well they remind me of poetry, kind of) and given that the book I was reading then didn't intrigue me much, I decided to jump into it.
Half-Japanese and half-Jewish American, Kana Goldberg is an eight-grader whose life has taken a turn after a classmate commits suicide. Although Kana isn’t the one who had said the hurtful things to Ruth, nonetheless she still feels a little guilty since she is hanging out with the girls who were mean to Ruth. After the incident, Kana’s parents decided to send her off to Japan for the summer. Staying in her mother’s village home in Kohama where they grow mikan oranges for a living, they are hoping that her stay there will help to reflect on her behaviour.
Given her mixed heritage, Kana has difficulty fitting in and she learnt that her grandmother (whom she called Baachan) was unhappy when her mother left Japan many years ago and married an American. It took a while for the family to accept her and soon Kana adjust to her life in the rural orchard farm. Though she is far away from New York, Kana still think of Ruth, her death and how things might be different if it didn’t end it that way.
Filled with teenage angst, guilt, sorrow and reflection, Orchards is an emotional intense story told from Kana’s point of view which was directed to Ruth. I have to confess I was skeptical about the free verse format and wondered if this is suffice to tell a story, and surprisingly I found that this format works well through Holly Thompson’s prose and every of her words are enough to draw me in and pull my heartstring. I was also drawn to the few illustrations that spotlight some of the Japanese culture and symbols which I thought they somewhat lessened the brooding atmosphere given that Kana is sorting out her feelings as readers get to see her mature through the process.