Book Blog -- ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Every once in a while a book comes along that startles, surprises, and uplifts in ways that wouldn't have been thought unimaginable. ORCHARDS, by Holly Thompson, did that for me.

It is the story of Kana Goldberg, a Jewish-Japanese-American, who is sent to Japan to live with her relatives for summer after the suicide of an eighth-grade classmate. While Kana attends four weeks at a Japanese school, works in her uncle's orange tree farm, and struggles with the rigid structure of rules and civility demanded by the society, she also reflects on depression, bullying and grief, trying to make sense of the events of the previous spring.

Thompson has written her book in spare and flowing verse, the structure of which reflects perfectly the beauty and order of the orchards in which Kana works.  It simplifies, but doesn't dilute, the trauma experienced by the friends of a suicide. If anything, it makes the reader’s experience all the more intense, because we have to imagine intimately what it would feel like in ourselves.

I found this book on the YA shelves and wondered why a 14-year-old protagonist would be featured there. I've always heard that children and teens like to read about characters who are older than themselves. But Thompson's book is so emotionally riveting that I personally would've found it difficult to read had I been younger than twelve. It is a rare book that makes a young character absolutely universal.

ORCHARDS is a quiet book can be a very quick read, but its themes and images resonate for a very long time.


I never really warmed to books written in verse. Because poetry and I never really got along. But if I see Orchards in a bookstore somewhere, I'll give it a go.

Thank you for the heads up on this one. It sounds great!

I really enjoyed it, Heather! And Zoe, I think I understand what you mean about poetry -- I never feel smart enough when I read it -- but this book was just beautiful, and the story so compelling that I didn't even think about it.

I thought this book was a perfect match for verse.

The verse allowed the vivid and rich sensory details to shine through a story with potentially overly-weighty subject matter. The sparseness of the text allowed for impact without overwhelming weight.

Just seeing the book again here makes me feel like I'm smelling oranges. It's a beautiful read.

Thanks for writing about it, Katy.

Thanks, Kjersten! And I agree with you, the verse and the subject matter balanced perfectly in this book. I'm so glad you liked it, too!

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