Thursday, April 21, 2011

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson

Poetry Tag continues with a book review of a new book of poetry connected to yesterday's book review.

Today’s tagline: Another sensitive novel in verse

Guest Reviewer: Marianne Follis

Featured Book: Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.

Poem excerpt:

from Chapter One: “Because of You”

One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope

into your backpack

and walked uphill into

Osgood’s orchard

where blooms were still closed


my father looked up

summer airfares

to Tokyo.

Marianne writes: When a young girl takes her life, the town and school point their fingers accusingly at Kana and her friends. If only they weren’t mean to Ruth - if only they didn’t shun her for talking to Jake, the love interest of the clique’s leader, things would have been different.

But those things did happen and Kana is sent to her mother’s childhood home, a small village in Japan, to visit with her family, reflect in the land of her ancestors and to work in the same mikan* orchards her mother did so many years ago.

She is not the only one who has been exiled; her friends are all sent away, scattered far and wide like beads on a broken necklace.

but we weren’t a necklace
strung in a circle
we were more
an atom:
arranged in shells
around Lisa,
Becca and Mona
first shell solid,
the rest of us
in orbitals farther out
less bound
less stable
and you-
in the least stable
most vulnerable
outermost shell

you sometimes
hovered near
sometimes drifted off
some days were hurled far
from Lisa
our nucleus
whose biting wit made us
around her
always close to her
indifferent to orbits
like yours
farther out than

Now each of the girls is left on their own to deal with the fallout of the groups’ collective callousness to the dead girl.

The story unfolds as Kana addresses each chapter to Ruth, as if she was with her, and in a sense she is. The writing is intimate and intertwined as Kana’s feelings of isolation and guilt mix with the day to day issues of a young girl, such as cultural identity and body image. Half Russian Jew and half Japanese, Kana expresses her fears of belonging when upon her arrival in Japan she is greeted by her cousins who are “two skinny legs below a hipless bottom” and then later while trying to learn her Japanese family’s routine:

I try to help
but my ears
aren’t used
to Baachan’s words
Aunt and Uncle and Koichi’s
so much Japanese
so fast and constant
the half-and-half mix
of English
and Japanese
I hear from my family
or the Japlish I share
with Emi
in New York

Thompson’s writing is laced with beautiful figurative language like the closed fisted blooms of the opening chapter. Metaphoric parallels are well used, with the titular Orchards a key setting in both girl’s lives, and plays on meaning, like the chapter entitled “Thinning.” One page telling how Kana, with her “ample…Russian Jewish bottom” copes with the eating habits of her temporary home and the meals of “never-enough-rice” and fish. The chapter closes with an explanation of the “thinning” process the family uses in the orchard; dropping unripened fruit, and hearing them crunch underfoot leaving “only five of the best/to mature.”

Equally effective is the main character’s travel to a land where she is the outsider. Kana feels she doesn’t fit in physically, linguistically or culturally and reflects on her loss of place in the world. For Kana this takes place in Japan, for Ruth, this was her middle school experience at home.

In addition to the main story Orchards holds some wonderful character development. Kana grows, “thins” and find her voice. Secondary characters take on more color as the story progresses and the bond that forms between Kana and Baachan is one that will satisfy readers.

Thompson is a long time resident of Japan where she teaches creative writing and American culture. While doing research for this book she worked on a local mikan farm for a year, learning the process describes here from the ground up.

This novel represents many firsts for Thompson since it her first novel for young adults and her first written in verse.

*Mikan is a small citrus fruit that could be described as a seedless Mandarin orange

Tomorrow’s tagline: A parallel novel in verse about teen life

[We’re heading down the homestretch of National Poetry Month—still time to get your copy of the e-book, PoetryTagTime, an e-book with 30 poems, all connected, by 30 poets, downloadable at Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle app for your computer, iPad or phone for only 99 cents. Grab it now.]

Image credit: PoetryTagTime; Random House

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell and students © 2011. All rights reserved.


Jeannine Atkins said...

What an excellent review. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Your review makes me want to read it!

ian said...

This sounds great. I'm off to seek out the book straight away