Age Range
Release Date
February 22, 2011
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Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family's mikan orange groves.
Kana's mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana's father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

Editor review

1 review
A Sad and Beautiful Novel in Verse
Overall rating
Writing Style
Orchards is a hefty free verse novel, both in pages (325) and theme (teenage suicide). Despite its weight, I read it in one day and loved it completely. Holly Thompson has crafted memorable characters and a unique setting for a YA novel.

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

anything more
seeming like

after what happened
to you"

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.
Good Points
Moving and authentic
Gives a great insight into life on a rural farm in Japan
Hooray for bicultural characters!
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