Thompson, Holly. 2011. ORCHARDS. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780385739771 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]
In the wake of a classmate’s suicide, Kana is sent to her mother’s childhood home, a small village in Japan, to reflect, visit with her family, and work in the same orchards her mother did so many years ago.
The story unfolds as Kana addresses each chapter to the dead girl, Ruth. The writing is intimate and intertwined as Kana’s feelings of isolation and guilt mix with the day to day issues of a young girl, such as cultural identity and body image. Half Russian Jew and half Japanese, Kana expresses her fears of belonging when upon her arrival in Japan she is greeted by her cousins who are “two skinny legs below a hipless bottom” and then later while trying to learn her Japanese family’s routine:
I try to help
but my ears
to Baachan’s words
Aunt and Uncle and Koichi’s
so much Japanese
so fast and constant
the half-and-half mix
I hear from my family
or the Japlish I share
in New York
ORCHARDS effectively uses setting to place Kana in a land where she is the outsider. She feels she doesn’t fit in physically, linguistically or culturally and reflects on her loss of place in the world. For Kana this takes place in Japan, for Ruth, this was her middle school experience at home.
Use Kana’s letter writing technique as a writers’ prompt. What would you say/write to someone if you knew they would never read it?
Other novels in verse with strong female narratives:
Atkins, Jeannine. BORROWED NAMES. ISBN 9780805089349
Engle, Margarita. FIREFLY LETTERS. ISBN 9780805090826
By Marianne Follis