For me, one of the greatest strengths of this novel-in-verse is the device of choosing the voice of an eighth grader writing to a classmate who committed suicide. How much was the protagonist, Kana Goldberg, to blame for this girl’s desperate unhappiness? How much is anyone? ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson (Delacorte Press) opens:
One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope
into your backpack
and walked uphill into
where blooms were still closed fists
my father looked up
summer airfares to Tokyo…”
That “you” hooked me into following the way a relationship and understanding develops between the protagonist and a girl who is gone. Kana spends the summer on a farm getting to know her mother’s side of the family, which lets her find new strengths, but she also learns from what’s said and not said over the Internet and through her own reflections. I loved the details of life on the farm, loved less an incident toward the end of the book that seemed melodramatic to me, but expect many readers will like. I don’t need a lot of action. I can’t imagine anyone reading this novel being unmoved by its message about the secret hurts too many people carry, and I hope it’s a book that gets discussed among young people as well as read individually. Ancient Asian spirits, emails, mikan orange groves, grandmothers criticizing big butts, and girls trying to act better toward each other: little is more important.
For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.