Thompson, Holly. Orchards. Illus. Grady McFerrin. New York: Ember, 2011.
Orchards follows Kana Goldberg, half-Jewish, half-Japanese, to her mother’s family in Japan for the summer. Kana is struggling with the recent suicide of a schoolmate, who was bullied by one of her close friends. Kana is plagued by the memories and struggles with the part she may have played in the death. Through her family’s support and her work in the mikan orchards, she is able to cope with not only one suicide, but with a second tragedy as well. In the end, Kana is able to exhibit her condolences through an installation of her design.
Thompson seamlessly incorporates elements of the novel with poetry, so that one can appreciate the poetic elements while never feeling as though they are taking away from the novel. Thompson manipulates her language so that its structure evokes the mood. Often, Kana remembers Ruth’s suicide, and the words taper off, just as Kana’s emotions trail off into the unknown. Additionally, Kana’s struggle is often represented through terse lines; for example, after becoming upset about the treatment of crows in the fields, Kana relates, “even then/I don’t say/a word,” illustrating the frustration and lack of words she has to adequately express what she is feeling. Thompson relies on free verse and does not bend to traditional formats of structure, rhyme, or rhythm. Despite this, she reveals a touching story, and the reader can sympathize with the pain and internal conflict with which Kana battles. The reader too embodies the turmoil and sorrow that Kana must learn to overcome. At the end of the novel, the reader applauds Kana for overcoming her mistakes and taking the initiative in designing and building a memorial for her classmates. The novel teaches that, in life, we make mistakes, but that, though it may be difficult, it is possible to persevere and do what is right for other and oneself. Moreover, Thompson is innovative in her use of Japanese throughout the story to expose readers not only to another culture but to the language as well. Lastly, Grady McFerrin provided minimal illustrations, which are scattered throughout the novel and reflect images within the text.
Reviews: Green, Beth. "Orchards." Library Media Connection 30.1 (2011): 79. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
"Written in free verse, Orchards is an excellent book to use when discussing bullying and school violence today. It will initially appeal to girls, but its message is universally vital and applicable."
Tran, Allison. "Orchards: A Novel." School Library Journal 57.3 (2011): 172. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
"The narrative is rich in authentic cultural detail and is complemented by attractive woodcut illustrations of Japanese imagery to evoke the story's setting. Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss."
"Orchards." Kirkus Reviews 79.1 (2011): 65. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
"Thompson composes simple, neat lines of verse that drive the plot perhaps more than they appeal to the senses... Nevertheless, this first young adult outing is a fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide."
This would be a great book to read with a district or school initiative to combat bullying.
This could also be read in conjunction with other books or poems about bullying, perhaps different forms of bullying.
Students could write their own poems inspired by the novel and their own experiences with bullying.