Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 25, 2011

What I’m Reading: Orchards by Holly Thompson

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
Osgood’s orchard
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



  1. Debbi, you will LOVE this. Sad, but with just enough hope, and some beautiful language.

  2. “Ancient Asian spirits, emails, mikan orange groves, grandmothers criticizing big butts, and girls trying to act better toward each other: little is more important. ”

  3. Mary Lee, of course now that I wrote that, I can think of other things more important, including the younger children in your world. But I got in the teen zone reading Orchards, so guess I won’t retract or amend in the ephemeral blog world!

  4. Ooo, I enjoyed the excerpt you shared. This is a novel I’d be interested in reading: timely topic and an interesting approach (love how the narrator takes a trip to Tokyo during the book, too). Thank you!

  5. Jeni, I think you really would like this, with its spare approach to hard subjects. I’m also looking forward to reading another just out verse novel, Exposed, by Kim Marcus, which I hope to report on in April. (some of the contemporary work gets nudged back while I do research reading!)

  6. Jeannine, I TOTALLY got that you were speaking in terms of the book, and not making a global statement about importance in the world in general! No worries!

  7. Looks so compelling! I’m anxious to read Exposed,too. Thanks for featuring this one.

  8. I’m looking forward to Exposed, too! And now Orchards as well. Many thanks for the thoughtful review, Jeannine.

  9. Guess what book I got in the mail today? LOL Talk about timing! Looking forward to reading it!

  10. Thanks, Amy. I think Exposed feels more like poems on a page, as the idea of photographs leads you to expect, whereas this has fewer places where you want to pause, but moves along between 35 titled chapters. I expect both leave you kind of breathless.

  11. Thanks, Jama!

  12. Thanks, Jeannine! FYI, there are some interviews with me at including a recent one for Teen Ink.

  13. I love that kind of timing! So happy it came through.

  14. I love reading interviews, so thank you for letting us know!

  15. I have this one on my nightstand, next in line. Thanks for the review – you’ve got me hooked!

  16. Thanks! It’s nice to know other people are reading, as it’s a book that’s stayed with me. I really cared about Kana.

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