Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month: Orchards

everyone knows
Lisa didn't mean it
everyone knows
when a person says
certain things
they don't mean
the words
they say


and on the polished stone
I place tiny piles of
rice and minced eggplant
for spirits

I think of how in New York
all we ever do is take flowers
to the grave of Dad's mother
and place small stones on the top
of the grave
once a year
maybe twice
that's all

I think of you, Ruth
and I think of me
just bringing flowers
and placing stones

and how that shouldn't
be all I do
for you

OrchardsOrchards Holly Thompson

Last school year, Ruth hanged herself from a tree in the Osgood's orchard. When her suicide note was found, the community was in an uproar about the cruelty of eighth-grade girls. How could they have been so cruel? How could they have been so cold to one of their classmates?

That summer, Kana and her friends are sent in different directions. Kana is shipped off to Japan to spend the summer helping her maternal relatives with their mikan orchard. Separated from her friends and family, surrounded by a culture she understands but doesn't fit into (it doesn't help that her body has decided to take after her Jewish-Russian paternal side instead of her smaller, thinner, and quieter Japanese maternal side) Kana is left contemplating Ruth's suicide and what she could have done, if anything, to prevent it.

Here's what I liked about this book:

Kana's fish-out-of-water issues have a lot less to do with Japan and more to do with her family. I think it would have been easier to do the cultural isolation thing instead of familial isolation. I appreciate that not only did it NOT take the easy route, but it did the hard route really well and making her not fit in with her extended family gave a lot more emotional depth.

Most verse novels are a series of short poems. This is more like each chapter is a poem or a series of poems, but it all flows into one narrative, almost one long poem, more than most verse novels do. I liked the change-up and how it used poetry slightly differently to tell the story.

I really liked the visual detail-- the mikans that marked each chapter, the swirl design on the chapter pages, and the corner sketches that linked previous chapters to later ones, as well as illustrating an important part of the story. It's really subtle and doesn't detract, but we so rarely see visual elements in a purely text novel for teens. It was a very nice (and surprising) addition.

Overall though, this is just a very raw and honest account of one girl trying to come to terms with a horrible tragedy and her feelings of guilt surrounding it. I especially appreciated her moments of denial. They were painful and sometimes fueled the thoughts that the communal blame of the class may be right, but at the same time, it was so honest and raised some very good points.

I've been sharing a poetry-related post every day this month. This past week I shared some ancient Chinese poetry and highlighted some poems from All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.

Today's Poetry Friday round up is over at Random Noodling.

ARC Provided by... the publisher, at ALA Midwinter

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1 comment:

Jeannine Atkins said...

I, too, found Orchards to read more like one long poem, though without the breathlessness I found in the poetry memoir Maxine Hong Kingston just published for adults. That first page, first poem, set up the idea that you were going to have to read on for much sense of even brief closure. And I agree, raw and powerful. Thanks for your thoughts!