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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2011
Orchards is an amazing little book about guilt, healing, family, and life, among other things. It is written entirely in free verse, so it reads quickly and easily even though it touches on some heavy subjects such as suicide and body image.

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. I'd recommend it to people who enjoy novels in verse or contemporary stories and stories about healing. There is no romance in the book, so if you're looking for a love story this isn't it, unless of course you want to count the love of family.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2011
ORCHARDS has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it, but this story, about a biracial girl sent to Japan to reflect after the suicide of a classmate, is far from trendy. For one thing, it takes place in a Japanese farming community, as opposed to the mall. Thompson, a long-time resident of Japan, gets the details of mikan-growing and rural life down just right, and Kana's no-nonsense Japanese grandmother is especially well-drawn. She has also convincingly captured the voice of 14-year-old Kana, via verse, no less. As in her first novel ASH, which was published in the adult market, Thompson explores issues of guilt and grief. In the previous novel, which was set in Kagoshima, there is an Obon scene. There's another view of Obon in ORCHARDS. It's interesting to compare the two novels, as they are set in different parts of Japan, where the same events call for different customs.

After reading the cover flap of ORCHARDS, I thought I knew how this would turn out. I was wrong. Thompson doesn't go in for easy redemption, but she leaves the reader with a feeling of hope. This is a beautiful novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 19, 2011
Kana Goldberg will be spending the summer in Japan with her mother's side of the family. A classmate in Kana's eighth grade class committed suicide. Kana's clique is broken up after discovery their bullying may have lead another girl to take her life.

The clique is mean to Ruth because she's always seen talking to a boy the main IT girl likes. Come to find out Ruth thinks she might be bi polar. The boy is only trying to be supportive because his younger sister is bi polar
The story alternates between, Kana getting to her family in Japan with memories of how she and her friends treated Ruth. I loved when Kana would remember and reflect on how her clique treated the other girl. Thompson doesn't over play the bad actions of the girls to grab the reader, she simply creates believable bullying situations.

The story's in verse, a style that's very hard to pull off. Some of the author's phrasing wasn't as sharp as I would've liked but she does a decent job of it. I would've preferred Orchards in a standard style because verse didn't enhance my emotional connection to the character.

In the beginning I thought I would hate Kana but I quickly realized, though her actions were bad she wasn't. Thompson manages to address two issues without making this feel like an issues book. Orchards was a good, well layered story. It would make an excellent book club selection.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 24, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Surprisingly, this entire book is written in poetic form. Thus, even though it is 325 pages long, I read it in one sitting. I say that not because I feel it is the type of book one should read in one sitting, but because I think it is important for readers to know what a book is like when buying online. While some will certainly feel "Orchards" is written in a unique, lovely, haunting way, others would possibly be disappointed the story is not told in a standard narrative way.

"Orchards" is about a group of eight-grade girls who are involved in a "mean girl" incident, which results in the targeted girl hanging herself in an orchard. Kana Goldberg, who is half Japanese and half Jewish, is one of the involved girls, and is then sent away for the summer to her mother's family in Japan, to work on the family's mikan orange farm. Often while working in the orange groves, Kana thinks about Ruth, the girl who killed herself, and talks to Ruth in her mind. Since Kana has very limited access to e-mail, her thoughts are not being influenced, judged or manipulated by others--they are all her own thoughts. She is learning who she truly is as a person. In Japan, she also learns many family and community traditions. This gives her strong feelings of connection with others, including the deceased. She realizes how important both Japanese and Jewish traditions can be in helping one deal with one's mistakes and life's tragedies. Ultimately, "Orchards" is a poetic book about understanding and caring about others--both the bullied and the bullies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 3, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Kanako Goldberg is half-Japanese, half-Jewish American whose life changed forever since her classmate committed suicide. Kanako's classmate Ruth was probably suffering from bipolar syndrome, but the girls didn't know. They thought Ruth was flirting with the boy one of the girls liked, and they called her bad names.

Kanako's parents sent her to her Japanese family's Mikan orange groves in Shizuoka, Japan. Kanako was resentful in the beginning. It was all Ruth's fault. Ruth put Kanako into this unpleasant situation. Kanako kept on talking to Ruth in her head.

Working hard to take care of Mikan groves and dealing with Japanese relatives change Kanako gradually. She started to reflect her behavior and learned something important.

This novel is written in verse style, and it works well. Kanako's voice sounds very much like an ordinary 8th grade girl. Japanese culture is well written, too.

This book contains such a quiet beauty even though it treats serious subjects such as Bullying and Suicide. Because of it, I think it can reach to young people's heart.

I recommend this book to pre-teens, teens, and their parents.
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on July 29, 2015
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!
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on February 20, 2012
Orchards is a hefty free verse novel, both in pages (325) and theme (teenage suicide). Despite its weight, I read it in one day and loved it completely. Holly Thompson has crafted memorable characters and a unique setting for a YA novel.

The daughter of a Japanese mother and a Jewish father, Kana Goldberg is a member of a crew of eighth grade girls who are scattered after the suicide of a classmate. Kana is sent to live with her grandmother's family on a mikan (orange) farm in Japan. In a new culture, Kana has become the outsider and has time to dwell on the way her clique treated Ruth after she is seen talking with a boy that their leader likes.

The entire novel is written as Kana addressing Ruth, sorting through what could have been and how it has changed her. Kana's emotions are realistic: anger, shame, and regret are only a few that she cycles through. Through her emails with her friends, she realizes that everyone processes Ruth's death in their own way, but they are all forever affected:

"all of us complain
only a little

I think we will always complain
only a little

anything more
seeming like

after what happened
to you"

Having lived in Japan for a year, I love reading books that include Japanese culture. Holly Thompson has lived in Japan for over sixteen years and did extensive research into mikan farming. Reading Orchards was like stepping back into my days in Japan--the imagery had me tasting the food, smiling at the manners and respect shown to elders, and wishing I could attend the matsuri, summer festivals, again. Although Kana speaks Japanese and understands the culture more than I ever will, I could relate to her initial awkwardness as she tries to fit in. Like everything else in this novel, it felt authentic.

Orchards is a novel that will appeal to bicultural students, Japanophiles, readers who have lost a loved one, poetry fans, and anyone who has struggled to fit in...almost anyone could find something to love here.
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on November 27, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm not a huge fan of novels in verse. At least, I don't make a habit of reading them, but ORCHARDS is lovely. It's a quiet sort of read, and if you're looking for a lot of action and drama, you won't find it here.

ORCHARDS is about a young teenage girl named Kana Goldberg who is banished to spend the summer in Japan, helping her mother's family in the orange groves, after a classmate commits suicide. Kana's only half-Japanese; she's also half-Russian Jew, and as her traditional grandmother likes to point out, she does not have the delicate Japanese build. She's also dealing with the guilt and confusion after a classmate, Ruth, hangs herself. Kana was in the in-group, and Ruth wasn't, and no one tried to do anything. No one tried to become her friend, and to some extent, people at home blame Kana and her fellow eighth-grade girls for Ruth's death. So ORCHARDS is an introspective novel about Kana adapting to life in Japan while dealing with the aftermath of Ruth's suicide.

I don't know much about Japanese culture, but Holly Thompson has lived in Japan, and ORCHARDS just rings true in its portrayal of Japanese life. There's no info-dumping; the details are skillfully woven in so that everything is nuanced. The writing is gorgeous. It's poetic without really trying to be; a lot of it just seems like random line breaks in normal sentences, but it works. It sounds like a thirteen-year-old, especially since the book is sort of like Kana's letter to Ruth as she tries to figure out what exactly motivated Ruth's suicide and how Kana herself could have done things differently.

And really, I think the best thing about ORCHARDS is how it's an issues books (obviously about bullying and suicide) without really being all about the issue. The story is deepened by Kana's experiences in Japan, and even the issues of bullying and suicide are addressed gracefully and without any sort of preaching. ORCHARDS is not a story about bullying and teenage suicide, with Kana Goldberg just being the lucky narrator. Instead, it is a story about Kana Goldberg, a girl who is dealing with the consequences of bullying and suicide.
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on June 3, 2011
When I saw this book at the library, I knew I just had to read it. I love fiction that's written in free verse ("Sharp Teeth" would be the best example of this that I've encountered so far) - it's rare to find, but even rarer to find within the confines of YA fiction alone. "Sharp Teeth", meet your new rival, "Orchards".

This book deals with several issues all at once - being bicultural, bullying, suicide, and death. And I usually try to avoid books like these because there is rarely a new voices strong enough to attention to these issues long enough for people to notice.

But this book is very different. Thompson took a huge risk by writing this in free verse instead of traditional fiction structure. She took a double risk with creating a character based on friends and family and her own experiences in Japan - a bicultural teenage girl - when she herself is not ethnically mixed (or so it seems - correct me if I'm wrong on this one). But you know what? Because she has thorough knowledge of both cultures, these risks pay off, big time. Because she did research and has experience with her subject, it makes Kanako that more alive, that more real. She could be your neighbor or acquaintance at school, talking on Facebook about her experiences over the summer at her matrilininal ancestral home.

And at the same time, her friends could also be the kids you know down the street. The grief she experiences could be the subject of gossip you discuss in whispers with your own friends. And Thompson is not afraid to impress this on her audience. She says it best in this scene with Baachan and Kanako:

"suicide can spread
Baachan finally says
utsuru she adds
like a virus

you have to stop it
put up barriers (page 285, hardcover edition)"

The idea of suicide virii in Japan is nothing new (tons of pieces of popular culture can back this up), and I thought it was particularly skilled of Thompson to extend this idea to her audience - an American YA audience with little to no knowledge of this urban legend outside of movies like "The Ring" or anime. Thompson really helps her audience understand the idea that suicide IS a virus but moreover, it's a virus vectored by bullying and guilt among the ignorant. This is a masterful work and only through this idea in Japanese culture, I think I can safely say, can really convey the vicious cycle of bullying and suicide within a particular group of people that know each other.

This book NEEDS to be made mandatory reading for all American middle and high schools. The bullying epidemic is out of control (though in Japan, it's just as bad, if not worse), and we need to put up barriers, strengthen our immune systems against this vector and the result, the suicide virus.

If you want a book that doesn't sugarcoat this subject yet brings it to the table in a fresh, new, and unforgettable way, this is the book for you. Arguably one of my top ten of 2011 so far.

(crossposted to goodreads, shelfari, and
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on May 30, 2011
After a bi-polar classmate's suicide caused by bullying, Kana is sent to live in Japan for the summer with her mother's relatives. It was Kana's friend Lisa that did a majority of the bullying, but Kana never did anything to stop is and it is weighing on her. While in Japan, she is to attend summer school, read a stack of books her mother sent with her, and help her mother's family tend to their mikan orange groves. Kana is half Jewish and half Japanese and quickly finds herself an outsider in her summer school. She is bigger than the other girls, and being only half Japanese, she looks different. In the beginning, Kana blames Ruth. If it hadn't been for her suicide, Kana wouldn't be in Japan for the summer. She would be back in New York with her family and friends. She blames Ruth for not speaking out, not telling anyone about her disorder. If she had, maybe things would have been different. During her months away, Kana vacillates between anger, sadness and regret over what happened. Eventually, she comes to terms with the event. She opens up more to her family, and begins to enjoy her summer, looking forward to going home and starting high school. That all changes when she receives news about another tragedy which changes her life even more.

Orchards is written in free-verse which suits the novel well. Had it been written in prose, I'm afraid it would have been mired down in unnecessary description and would have possibly stripped this moving novel of its heart. Though it does deal with tough subject matter, the author handles it very well. The book is told entirely from Kana's point of view as she speaks to Ruth, now dead, about her feelings and what she has to go through because of what happened. I felt this added a nice touch and added a depth to the book it may not have had otherwise. The characters are strong, the verse is well-crafted and the story is engaging. All in all it is a satisfying read.

(Review copy courtesy of Book Diva's)
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