Orchards by Holly Thompson

By Maureen Tai, 27 June 2021

I read Orchards (ages 12+) many years ago after having had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the author at a children’s book conference in Singapore. I’ve never forgotten the compelling story, nor Holly’s warm and calming aura, so effortlessly exuded.

Suicide is a difficult topic in any culture and for any age. Holly’s compelling verse novel about a 13 year old mixed-race girl grappling with a classmate’s self-inflicted death explores this darkness with raw honesty, careful thought, measured pacing and sparse, beautiful writing.

Kana Goldberg is sent to her mother’s home in Japan for the summer. Working with her extended Japanese family in their mikan (Japanese tangerine) groves, the half-Japanese, half-Jewish American teen tries to recover from the suicide that has shaken her community in New York. Hard as she tries, Kana cannot stop thinking about her friend’s death. It follows her like a shadow, guilt as heavy and stifling as a winter overcoat in midsummer.

But by summer’s end, Kana is healed: by her family, her new friends and her ancestral home country. She has become stronger, more assured and more able to handle a final devastating tragedy that serves as a stark reminder of how far and wide the ripples of a dropped stone can spread and how wounds can fester if left untreated. Orchards will take your breath away, leaving you changed and hopeful. It did me.

Ages 12 and up.

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