Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Cross posted at The Well-Read Child

2005 Newbery Medal Book

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Reading level:
Ages 10-14
272 pages
Aladdin (December 26, 2006)

Kira-Kira is the story of the Japanese-American Takeshima family, told from the point of view of Katie, the youngest daughter. We learn in the opening passage of the story that Kira-Kira means “glittering” in Japanese, and that it was Katie’s first word, taught to her by her older sister Lynn. It’s obvious from the beginning that Katie adores Lynn.

Born in Iowa to Japanese immigrants, Katie and Lynn have a nice childhood, but everything changes when the family’s oriental food store goes out of business, and they move to Georgia to become factory workers in a poultry processing plant. It’s here that Katie realizes for the first time that she is different. Shunned by the white Georgians, the Japanese community in Georgia is tight knit, but life is very difficult. Katie and Lynn’s parents work extremely long hours under harsh conditions. Katie and Lynn rarely see their father, and when they do, he’s exhausted. Their mother is forced to wear “pads” because bathroom breaks are not allowed in the factory. When their baby brother, Sammy, is born, the girls and a next door neighbor pretty much raise him. Just when things can’t get worse, Lynn becomes very ill, and the family’s bonds are tested.

This heart wrenching story is one that I will soon not forget. Cynthia Kadohata expertly gets into the mind of a girl Katie’s age who has to deal with some very adult situations but does not quite understand them. An example of this is when Lynn is very ill, and despite appearing very strong and brave in front of Lynn, Katie needs a moment alone and breaks down:

“I cried and cried. For a while as I cried I hated my parents, as if it were their fault Lynn was sick. Then I cried because I loved my parents so much. Then I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I just felt barren, my eyes felt dry. They sky was still gray. Everything was gray, the sky and the store and even my hand when I held it out in front of myself. I wondered in anyone else in history had ever been as sad as I was at that moment” (p. 199).

We also see racism, prejudice, and the unfair treatment of the factory workers through Katie’s eyes. While some have criticized this book and being slow and uninteresting for young adults, it would have been right up my alley when I was younger. Certainly, it’s not for every kid and may appeal more to girls than boys, but it’s a story that I think will impact many. It was completely deserving of its 2005 Newbery Medal win.

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