Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I was a little skeptical about this book at first. The trade book industry continues to market YA and teen books to the girly- white crowd they think reads. I don't know the statistics but anytime I see covers like this one on Orchards, I hesitate. The cover of the book I have shows a white- skinned teen girl's lower face, long straight brown hair, an index finger twirling said straight brown hair and her neck. Confusing for me: what could this book be about? But the book cover designers got something right: they put Ellen Hopkins' powerful recommendation for the book right on the front. I know Hopkins' books are edgy and often gruesome, and when I want a raw book, I seek hers out. The quote suggested however that this would be a rich read.

True that.

Holly Thompson's Orchards offers a glimpse into a teen's life after a classmate commits suicide. The main character, Kana, searches for her own answers after her family sends her to Japan to work in the orange groves, tending the crops and creating relationships with her once- distant Japanese relatives. Struggling Kana is mostly disconnected from her friends and family in the U.S., relying on e-mail and the occasional phone call. She endures the distance and on the surface, turns to her relatives, all the while struggling to find her footing in her grieving inner world.

By writing in poetic form, Thompson changed the way the story reads dramatically for me. Surprises emerged genuinely and regularly for me. Ask Alysa: I can be a huge skimmer in books that don't catch me. This one caught me and reeled me in. I found myself stopping to listen into the few words on each page carefully. I believed in Kana's struggle, and I appreciated how Thompson chose to keep the hovering parents so distant from her as she found her way to letting go and living again. Maybe the cover of the book is spot on after all: maybe Kara is finding her way between how she faces the world and how she feels it.

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