Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Orchards: A Review and a Giveaway

This is a two-for-one week as I review and give away two books on the theme of bullying which Joyce Hostetter and I tackle in the spring issue of Talking Story.

From the number of novels-in-verse that I review, you may guess this is a genre close to my heart. Ever since I was in high school and poured my heart out in free verse, I've admired this genre. But there is more than a world apart from my attempts and beautifully written novels such as THE GOOD BRAIDER, BLUE BIRDS, CRAZY, THE KISS OF BROKEN GLASS. I am consistently impressed with these authors' ability to tell well-plotted stories using succinct, figurative language.

Let's add ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson to this list.  

(Please note that the line spacing in the following excerpts are not an exact replica of the book's poems. I had difficulty formatting these poems for this blog.)

Half-Japanese, half-Jewish American, Kana Goldberg is sent to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. A bullied eighth grade classmate (Ruth) committed suicide at the end of the school year and although Kenna wasn't the bully, she didn't stop it from happening. Working in her mother's ancestral mikan orange grove, she deals with her anger, guilt and grief and comes home a stronger young woman.

because of you, Ruth
I'm exiled
to my maternal grandmother, Baachan,  
to the ancestors at the altar 
and to Uncle, Aunt and cousins 
I haven't seen in three years-- 
not since our last trip back 
for Jiichan's funeral 
when Baachan  
told my sister Emi 
she was just right 
but told me I was fat 
should eat

less fill myself eighty percent 
no more each meal
                    but then I was small
                    then I didn't have hips
                    then was before this bottom inherited from my father's 
Russian Jewish mother  (p.9)

Initially, Kana experiences problems fitting in.

I try to learn fast 
make up for my 
non-Japanese half 
but Uncle makes  
remarks like after I set the breakfast table-- 
how are we supposed to eat... 
with our hands?

I rush to set out chopsticks...  
too late
they seem to think 
I can just switch
          one half of me
       on and leave the other 
       half of me 
       off but I'm like
       warm water
       pouring from a faucet
       the hot
       and cold
       both flowing
       as one (p. 24-5)

In Japanese school, Kana tries to reach out to a girl she perceives is an outsider, because that's what her school counselor had said she and her friends should have done for Ruth. 
but instead of opening up to me 
instead of warming to me 
instead of reaching out 

in return
she pivots 
and walks away.
after that 
not everyone is so eager 
to get to know this New Yorker not everyone so hot 
to try their English 

I don't care 

groups don't matter 
so much to me now 
maybe because I know 
most atoms aren't as stable
as they seem (p. 53-54)
She has a negative opinion of her deceased grandfather, but when she realizes he was operating out of his own hurt over her mother's leaving Japan, she recognizes there are two sides to every story.
I think 
there must be at least 
two sides 
to your story, too, Ruth,
and maybe knowing 
more of Lisa's side
          how she lived 
       with her godparents
       not her parents
       who were I don't know where
       might help explain
       why she was so mean to you

       and why we all 
       her lead (p.96)

When school ends Kana works long days in the family orchard. There she thinks about Ruth:
everyone knows 
Lisa didn't mean it 
everyone knows 
when a person says certain things 
they don't meathe words 
they say 
in the note you left 
for your parents
         and brother
      you said
      life was too hard
      they could never know
      what it was like
      for you at school
      where you were ostracized                           
                                 left out                           
and where 
just that day 
in front of all us girls 
after Jake handed you 
a piece of paper 
Lisa had given you 
a look  
and said 

I hope you die

I saw you glare  
at Lisa 
hard, I thought 
mean, I thought 
bitch we all said

hurt, I now realize 
as you crumpled that note into a  
tiny ball that was still 
in your jeans pocket
         when you were found in Osgood's orchard (p.110-111)

Kana's grief doesn't stop there; her world continues to painfully unravel. But by the time she returns to New York she has found a new home with her mother's family and a new way to go on living. 

Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away this book in conjunction with Talking Story's current issue on bullying. You can leave a comment either here, or through the newsletter. Do both, and your name will be entered twice. 


Linda Phillips said...

You know I would love this book. I shared your newsletter and with this comment, does that count for twice??

Carol Baldwin said...

Of course it does, Linda. And YES. You would love this.

Rosi said...

Thanks for telling me about this book. It sounds very interesting. I will check out Talking Story. Please let someone else win. Still packing here!

Linda A. said...

The author's voice pulls me in. I especially liked the body image sections and reference to atoms. What a great read! Thanks for sharing another winning title and review.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda and Rosi for leaving comments. Linda, you're in!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

This post was a painful reminder (in a good way) of the teenage world and how tough it is to grow up in the microcosm of the school world with its intense peer pressure made all the more terrible when a bully's at the helm.

Thanks for all the recommendations of books in verse, Carol. Don't include my name this time. I'm still whittling away on my stack.

Mary Jane said...

I'm really intrigued by this one. Books in verse and other different approaches to timeless situations are on my mind lately!
Mary Jane

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for stopping by Clara and Mary Jane!

Connie Porter Saunders said...

There has always been bullying but it breaks my heart to hear about the methods that are now used. Thanks for sharing some of the content of Orchards.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Connie. I have entered your name twice since you left me a comment on Talking Story.

Unknown said...

Sounds really interesting. Teens have very thin shields. So tough to be a teen. A time I would not wish to revisit.

Carol Baldwin said...

You're right on all accounts, Elena. thanks for your comment. Entered your name in the giveaway.

Jo Hackl said...

Sounds like a wonderful book and I look forward to reading it. Many thanks for sharing news about it here.

Carol Baldwin said...

It is a wonderful book, Jo. I'll add your name to the list.

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