Reviews for Orchards

Booklist Reviews 2011 January #1
In Manhattan, Kanako Goldberg says she is "Japlish," part Russian Jewish, part Japanese, and she tries hard to make it into her eighth-grade's in-crowd. Then Ruth, a bipolar classmate, hangs herself, and Kanako's parents send her to spend the summer working on her grandparents' fruit farm in a Japanese village, where she confronts her guilt about following her bitchy classmate's behavior, and she talks to Ruth in her head. The story is purposive, and readers may be slowed by the long, detailed passages about local culture. But Kanako's urgent teen voice, written in rapid free verse and illustrated with occasional black-and-white sketches, will hold readers with its nonreverential family story. Kanako's bossy grandmother is no sweet comfort, always nagging Kanako about her big butt, but she does give good advice about comforting friends back home. The spare poetry about place ("silent / as the night shadow / climbs Mount Fuji") mixes with jokes about giving spirits GPS-activated cell phones, and readers will want to talk about the big issues, especially the guilt of doing nothing. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Fall
Half-Japanese, half-Jewish American Kana is sent to live with distant relatives in Japan after classmate and clique-target Ruth's suicide. Learning discipline, patience, and acceptance of herself and her circumstances, Kana begins to blossom like the family's mikan (orange) groves--even after tragedy strikes again. Told in first-person verse addressed to Ruth, Kana's voice deftly progresses from morose to contemplative to hopeful. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 January #1
After a friend hangs herself, biracial 14-year-old Kana Golberg is shipped out to her family in Japan to work in the sweltering heat tending to their mikan orange groves. There, Kana is immersed in the world her mother left behind for her Jewish father, but still she remains haunted by her friend's death—could she have prevented it? Thompson composes simple, neat lines of verse that drive the plot perhaps more than they appeal to the senses. At times the individual poems begin to feel formulaic, as the first three quarters of many poems recount Kana's thoughts and the day's events, and the last fourth finds her wondering about her dead friend. This isn't always the case, however, and the author finds moments to meld the two trajectories, especially when Kana ventures off the farm with her family. That said, the imagery of Kana's surroundings threatens to overwhelm characterizations: "we / walk along other docks / following the high tide line / to where the shore gets wider / and sit down in an arc of shade / made from a rise of sandstone cliff ..." Nevertheless, this first young adult outing is a fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide. (Fiction. 12 & up) 
Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 January #1

Writing in free verse, Thompson (Ash) eloquently captures a teenager's anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. Weeks after Ruth, a bullied eighth-grader, hangs herself in an orchard, the girls who tormented her scatter in different directions, "like beads/ from a necklace/ snapped." Against her wishes, Kana is sent to stay with relatives in her mother's homeland of Japan. Although she's a misfit, with half-Jewish genes and a curvy figure, she is accepted by her extended family and gradually adjusts to the routines and rigors of farm life at her uncle's home. Conciliation doesn't necessarily come through words, but through small gestures of kindness and understanding, brought to life in Thompson's understated yet potent verse. McFerrin's spot illustrations of Japanese imagery (Mount Fuji, origami birds, lanterns) appear intermittently, but feel extraneous and a bit juvenile given the subject matter. Written from Kana's point of view and directed toward Ruth, the novel--moving between Kana's flashbacks, reflections, and moments of discovery--effectively traces her emotional maturation as her desire to move forward is rekindled. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 March

Gr 8 Up--After a classmate commits suicide, Kana, a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American eighth grader, is sent to her maternal grandmother's farm in rural Japan for personal reflection. Kana tells her story in poignantly straightforward verse directed at the deceased classmate as she struggles with blame and regret, wondering if she and her friends are responsible because they took part in ostracizing the girl. She struggles, too, with her biracial, bicultural identity, feeling isolated in her new surroundings. Tentative at first, Kana reacquaints herself with her extended family and gains a sense of purpose and belonging from toiling in their mikan orange groves. Her journey toward self-discovery is deftly balanced with an undercurrent of tension as she gradually reveals the events that drove her bullied classmate to hang herself in an orchard back home. When another tragedy strikes, Kana realizes that although the past can't be mended, she can take an active role in shaping the future, and the story concludes on a beautiful note of hope. The narrative is rich in authentic cultural detail and is complemented by attractive woodcut illustrations of Japanese imagery to evoke the story's setting. Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss.--Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

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VOYA Reviews 2011 February
In this compelling novel-in-verse, thirteen-year-old Kana Goldberg is sent from her New York home to spend the summer with her barely remembered grandparents and cousins in Shizuoka, Japan. There she studies in a local school and works in the family's orange groves while trying to assimilate given her half-Japanese, half-Jewish American heritage. Kana narrates her story of Ruth, an eighth-grade classmate who committed suicide after heckling from Kana's friend, Lisa, and whose death is why Kana was sent away. Both ashamed and confused by her clique's role in Ruth's death, Kana wonders if it would have made a difference if she and her classmates had known of Ruth's depression and had been more compassionate. As the summer progresses, she settles into the rhythm of life in her family's rural village and makes tentative steps toward healing by reaching out to Ruth's only friend and trying to reconnect with her own friends. Just when it seems her efforts are paying off, Kana is sent reeling by the news of Lisa's suicide and must find a way to honor both Ruth and Lisa using what she has learned from her Japanese summer. First-time YA author and American expatriate Holly Thompson has lived and written in Japan for many years. Through her flowing, poetic verse, Thompson expertly depicts the dualism in Kana, who misses her modern New York life but is also drawn to her family's traditional Japanese customs. Teens who enjoy learning about other cultures will relish Thompson's ability to evoke the sights, smells, and tastes of Japan, while poetry fans will enjoy the novel's unique format.--Leah Sparks. 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.