Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Orchards

Title: Orchards
Author: Holly Thompson
Genre: Young Adult
Style: Free Verse Poetry
Subjects: Teen suicide, bullying
My raitng: 4.5 Stars

With a title and a book cover that gives a very sunny tropical feel, Orchards is completely unlike what it portrays to be. The book opens with the lines:

One week after
You stuffed a coil of rope
Into your backpack
And walked uphill into
Osgood’s orchard
Where blooms were still closed fists
My father looked up
Summer airfares
To Tokyo

Following the suicide of 14 year old Ruth, the other 8th grade girls from her New York school are sent away to different places to spend the summer away from each other. For Kana Goldberg, her destination is Japan – the home, the village and the orange orchards her mom grew up in. On page 5 of the book, we get a glimpse in to Kana’s extremely perspicacious understanding of the social circle in their middle school - the reason behind Ruth’s suicide.

We were more
An atom:
Arranged in shells
Around Lisa,
Becca and Mona
First shell solid,
The rest of us
In orbitals father out
Less bound
Less stable
And you –
In the least stable
Most vulnerable
Outermost shell

Even though she’s kept busy throughout the summer, Kana’s thoughts are always in New York and she doesn’t stop thinking about Ruth. She goes over the past in her head multiple times wondering how they missed the signs, what she could have done to avoid this. Having lost one of my closest friends to the ravages of depression and been through the cycle of emotions that come up after the “event”, I thought Holly Thompson accurately portrayed Kana’s feelings of shock, helplessness, guilt and even anger.

I’ve never read poetry before this challenge and it amazes me how much can be conveyed with so few words. As Kana tries to immerse herself in the Japanese way of life in her grandmother’s place, we get a clear understanding of the routines of orchard farmers in Japan. Through her thoughts, in bits and pieces, we are able to put together the past and the events and circumstances that led to the suicide of Ruth. Kana is in Japan, feeling lonely and isolated, trying hard to fit in to the family she’s hardly known till now when tragedy strikes a second time. Her grandmother, who is usually sharp and critical of Kana and her American ways, surfaces at this point to console her with her wisdom and perspective.

Suicide can spread
Baachan finally says
Utsuru she adds
Like a virus
You have to stop it
Put up barriers

And it’s that simple truth that people most often tend to ignore. Suicide is final. And someone that was in any position to have prevented it is left with indescribable amounts of guilt. It is hard to even imagine the mental turmoil of someone that’s actually directly or indirectly the trigger to such an extreme action. And in the case of teen suicides, everyone involved is so young and so blissfully unaware of the consequences of their actions and words. Helping everyone around deal with their feelings should be of primary concern.

Orchards is a fantastic book and is a must read for every young adult to understand that bullying can lead to extreme situations they have no control over. It is also an essential read for parents, teachers and other associated with teens to understand the overarching effects of suicide and its impact on everyone involved. I also highly recommend it for everyone that likes to read in general. The writing is beautiful. There’s something about the free verse style that appeals to me. Not everything is spelled out as in prose and it adds to the beauty of the book and story. In addition, there are some fabulous illustrations of Japanese life scattered throughout the book.


bermudaonion said...

I love novels in verse and have never read this author. This book sounds terrific!

Literary Feline said...

This novel sounds quite powerful--and so beautifully written. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose someone to suicide. I hope I never know. I wish now one else would ever know.

And bullying . . . don't even get me started.

I have only ever read one book in verse and really liked the experience. I will have to look for this one.