Synopsis: 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.
Date Finished: 7-24-15
Review, and Would I recommend?
Orchards was a beautiful book. Told in a verse style, it reads like an Ellen Hopkins novel, with quick, easy to read pages which makes for a fast read (I finished it in just a few hours.) Orchards mainly focuses on Kana, the half-japanese, half-jewish protagonist who was involved in the bullying of Ruth, who committed suicide. Because of her involvement, Kana is sent to spend her summer away from home with her Japanese relatives. There, while working, she begins to reflect upon the events and wonder who was at fault, the girls for bullying and not noticing the signs, or Ruth for taking everything seriously. (It was definitely the girls :p) Throughout the course of the book, we get to see Kana’s guilt, as her thoughts constantly turn to Ruth while doing other tasks, such as working in the fields, spending time with relatives, or attending ceremonies or ancestors. We really get to see Kana’s changes throughout the course of the novel. I feel that her time in Japan matures her, which shows especially at the end when she comes up with a plan to honor the place where Ruth took her life. Through a few events that I won’t mention due to a MAJOR spoiler, Kana learns that everything has consequences, no matter how good the intention. And while the consequences hurt everyone, they also sometimes ultimately help a community to heal.
All in all, this was a great read, and I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to people who are fans of Ellen Hopkins’s novels, such as Crank, Impulse, or Burned. While Orchards isn’t as gritty of a read as those novels, it shares a fast-reading verse style and difficult subjects. This novel could be potentially triggering. Actually, I would recommend this for people who found Hopkins’s novels a bit too difficult to get through, as Orchards is more reflective, as opposed to Hopkins’s very immediate storytelling. Perhaps this would be a good read for a child or younger sibling that you feel isn’t ready for Ellen Hopkins’s subjects yet, but would still enjoy a verse style novel. It’s a fast read, and you could probably get through the entire thing in an afternoon. It’ll leave you thinking and reflecting for long after, though!