Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Orchards

Orchards by Holly Thompson

Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers

release date: February 22, 2011

hardcover, 336 pages

intended audience: Young Adult


source: from publisher for honest review

description: 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.

Review: This is my first foray into the world of books written in verse. I admit, I was a little hesitant at first. But as far as Orchards is concerned, it was amazing. The rhythm of the words fit the subject and tone this story was trying to get across just perfectly. This book is described as being written in spare yet evocative verse, and they weren't kidding. There was, on average, about twenty lines of verse on each page. With this writing method, you seem to get more of a "feel" for what is going on, rather than the full behind-the-scenes details that you would in a regular novel. It's not a bad thing, but there were times during reading when I felt like I wanted to know more---more about Kana, more about her parent's story, more about what led to Ruth's suicide. Then, strangely enough, when I turned the last page, the story felt complete and satisfying, like any detail that I had wanted to know before was somehow insignificant now.

You get to know Kana, the main character, slowly and intimately, through her words to Ruth, her classmate who committed suicide after being bullied by the, more or less, leader of Kana's group of friends. This is how the story is told, through Kana's voice as she addresses Ruth, telling her about being sent to stay with her grandmother in Japan to "reflect in the presence of her ancestors", and talking to Ruth about what they all could have done differently as she works through her grief and her anger and her guilt. The story itself is haunting and heart-wrenching, the descriptions of the Japanese culture and surroundings are enchanting and lush, and the subject is so incredibly poignant at this day and age when bullying and teen suicide are unfortunately such timely issues.

I have to say a little about the physical book. It was just as amazing and gorgeous as the story inside. The cover is so pretty, the colors, the font, and the bottom of Kana's face. The inside is no less stunning! I have to share this with you...there are all these swirls and drawings throughout that just added to the beauty of the story:
I really enjoyed this book, and have a feeling it will be one that stays with me for a long time to come.

Visit Holly Thompson's website here.

Purchase Orchards at: AmazonBN.comBookDepository


  1. I'm not a big fan of verse novels. But this book looks pretty and the story sounds really good. I love that you got to read a bit about the Japanese culture, that makes it more interesting. I think I will add this to my tbr list. Great review.

  2. I really like verse novels so this one should be interesting. I love that kimono on the page! My grandmother is from Japan and I love learning about that culture. Thanks for the review!

  3. Thanks for this review! I, too, loved the design elements for the book. Glad to know the story felt complete and satisfying at the end.
    FYI, the publisher is actually Delacorte/Random House. Thanks for reading! For any readers in MA, I'll be in the U.S. briefly and reading at the Concord Bookshop on March 11 at 4 pm.
    Holly Thompson

  4. Whoops! Thanks Holly! I must have read the press release paper wrong---all fixed now! :)

  5. Hmm...I have never read any verse novels before, but it looks fairly interesting. but because you rate it 4 and a half stars, I'll give it ago :D