Author: Holly Thompson
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: Random Buzzers
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 tradition-bound 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.
Kana is an easily likable and sympathetic character. In the aftermath of a classmate's suicide, she feels guilt for things that she didn't do, things she didn't know, things that in hindsight she feels that she should have done or known. But at the same time that she is processing her own failures where this girl is concerned, she is also smart enough to recognize that she and the other kids should have been educated on depression and mental illness and warning signs of suicide, and that it is not fair for some of the adults who are quick to gossip or point their fingers at the girls in her class when they could just as easily point back at themselves for the things that they also didn't see or do or know.
Kana's time in Japan brings her a lot of distraction in the form of hard work, but not nearly enough. She is almost always burdened by her thoughts of her classmate's death. She goes through periods of sadness at the death and anger at the girl whose actions have disrupted her life. Her grandmother is hard on her and life in her family's Japanese town takes some getting used to for Kana.
The plot of this book moves along at a leisurely pace. There's not a whole lot of big things happening, but there are a lot of small things. The free verse helps with what might otherwise be a story with a slow and almost tedious pace, turning it instead into beautiful snippets, moments, and experiences - both happy and sad - that make up Kana's summer and reveal to the reader so many elements of life. LIFE in a book that follows a suicide.
I really enjoyed Orchards. I think that I could read this book over and over again and find something new to love about it each time.