Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book
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.
Writing in free verse, Thompson (Ash) eloquently captures a teenager's anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. Weeks after Ruth, a bullied eighth-grader, hangs herself in an orchard, the girls who tormented her scatter in different directions, "like beads/ from a necklace/ snapped." Against her wishes, Kana is sent to stay with relatives in her mother's homeland of Japan. Although she's a misfit, with half-Jewish genes and a curvy figure, she is accepted by her extended family and gradually adjusts to the routines and rigors of farm life at her uncle's home. Conciliation doesn't necessarily come through words, but through small gestures of kindness and understanding, brought to life in Thompson's understated yet potent verse. McFerrin's spot illustrations of Japanese imagery (Mount Fuji, origami birds, lanterns) appear intermittently, but feel extraneous and a bit juvenile given the subject matter. Written from Kana's point of view and directed toward Ruth, the novel moving between Kana's flashbacks, reflections, and moments of discovery effectively traces her emotional maturation as her desire to move forward is rekindled. Ages 12 up.