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  • Written by Holly Thompson
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List Price: $9.99


On Sale: February 22, 2011
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89834-1
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family's mikan orange groves.
Kana's mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana's father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

Because of You

One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope
into your backpack
and walked uphill into
Osgoods' orchard
where blooms were still closed fists

my father looked up
summer airfares
to Tokyo

I protested
it wasn't my fault
I didn't do anything!

my mother hissed
and made the call
to her older sister
my aunt
in Shizuoka

nothing would change
their minds

all my mother
would say
as I followed her
through garden beds
transplanting cubes of seedlings
she'd grown under lights
in hothouses

all she'd say
row after row
in tight-lipped
you can reflect
in the presence of your ancestors

not that I'm alone
in being sent away-- 
Lisa's off to summer school
Becca to Bible camp
Mona to cousins in Quebec
Emily to help in her uncle's store
Erin to math camp
Abby to some adventure program
Noelle to her father's
Gina to her mother's
Namita to New Jersey . . .
all twenty-nine
eighth-grade girls
scattered, as Gina said,
like beads
from a 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

after you were
found in the grove
of Macs and Cortlands
that were still tight fists
of not-yet-bloom
and the note was found
on your dresser
by your mother
who brought it to the principal
who shared it with police
who called for an investigation
and pulled in counselors
from all over the district

word got around

and people in town
began to stare
and talk
and text
about our uncaring

I don't think I
did anything to drive you
to perfect slipknots
or learn to tie a noose . . .
with what?
I wonder
backpack cords?
drawstrings in your gym shorts
as you waited for your turn
at the softball bat?

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
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

my mother was
of four children born
to my grandparents
mikan orange farmers
in a Shizuoka village of sixty households
where eldest son
inherits all

but there were
no sons
in her generation
so my aunt
eldest daughter
took in a husband who
took on the Mano name
took over the Mano holdings
became sole heir
head of household
my uncle

into my suitcase
my mother has stuffed
dish towels
framed photos of Emi and me
last year's raspberry jam
pancake mix
maple syrup--
and ten books for me to finish
by September

books she didn't pick
I know
because she only reads novels
in Japanese
and these ten are
in English--
books chosen by a librarian
or teacher
or other mother
with themes of
         reaching out
I want to shout

she also changed dollars
into yen
and divided bills
into three envelopes
labeled in Japanese--
one for spending
one for transportation and school fees
one with gift money for Buddhist ceremonies
to honor her father--my Jiichan,
this third summer
since the year
of his passing

the nonstop flight to Narita
is thirteen hours
door to door
my home in New York
to theirs in Shizuoka
is a full twenty-four

on the plane there is
time . . .
for movies
journal entries

I have never been to
Japan alone
never traveled anywhere alone
except sleepovers
and overnight camp
for a week in Vermont

on the plane
flight attendants chat with me
unaccompanied minor
praise my language abilities
assume it's a
happy occasion
my returning
to the village of my mother's childhood
for the summer

but they don't know
what I know, Ruth--
that it's all
because of you

From the Hardcover edition.
Holly Thompson|Author Q&A

About Holly Thompson

Holly Thompson - Orchards

Photo © Isabel Thompson

HOLLY THOMPSON grew up in New England. She earned a BA in biology from Mount Holyoke College and an MA in English with a concentration in creative writing from New York University. A longtime resident of Japan, she teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University. Her previous young adult novel, is Orchards.

Author Q&A

Orchards clearly focuses on questions of identity. Half Japanese and half Jewish, Kana has been raised in New York, but her visit to Japan helps her connect with her Japanese roots. Do you have personal experience with biculturalism?
Kana, like many of our children’s friends and the children and teens I have known and taught over the years, is the child of a Japanese and non-Japanese parent. She straddles their languages, belief systems, behaviors and social customs. She operates in a sort of psychological and linguistic duality, much as I do, but her biculturalism is based on personal heritage whereas mine is acquired—due to my life’s circumstances.
I’ve lived and worked in Japan for over 15 years, and we’ve raised our two children here. Both attended Japanese public schools before switching to international school, and both are bilingual. My husband and I both speak Japanese and deeply value our local community; for many years Japan has been home for us. We return to the U.S. for visits and often experience culture shock there now. Straddling U.S. and Japanese cultures is a complicated balancing act, and not being ethnically Asian or with mixed roots or in an international marriage means that to others we are sometimes invisibly bicultural.
In addition to our Japan life, our children have both Jewish and non-Jewish grandparents, a Paraguayan aunt, and Mexican cousins, all of whom provide additional intercultural opportunities.
•Your writing is spare, yet you convey so much in the verse format.  Why did you decide to pursue verse instead of prose?
Orchards is a story about the intense emotions after a devastating loss. Traditional prose never felt right for Kana’s voice. Tight, spare vignettes or splashes of emotion and action seemed more appropriate, and from the beginning Kana’s story came to me in verse. I like the process of distillation, of finding the essence of a scene or the key words in a dialogue when writing in verse. And I liked having the chance to think about page turns and blank space, something you can’t do in a typical prose novel. 
•Kana’s narrative addresses Ruth, the girl who commits suicide, and feels very much like an ode.  Was this a reason you wrote the novel in verse form?
Orchards is certainly ode-like, though I wasn’t specifically thinking of odes during the writing process. A death by suicide raises so many questions. A suicide survivor, whether a friend or family member, close or peripheral, feels so many emotions—loss, anger, regret, guilt, fear, blame, despair, love. Kana works through her feelings by addressing Ruth, first in anger and frustration and gradually in a confiding friendship. It is a belated act of reaching out and an offering of respect.
•What made you choose the mikan orange farm setting for Kana’s relatives in Japan?
I was working on an adult novel about an American woman who marries into a Japanese mikan farming family, and in a topsy-turvy sort of way I imagined my setting first, then set off to find the real thing. I started searching in our prefecture and the neighboring prefecture and was thinking I might have to go farther afield, when, after camping in the Izu mountains with my kids, I took a back road down to a bay and landed in the middle of a string of villages designated as an agricultural area. Approaching the bay we were surrounded by steep, terraced mikan groves—I knew I’d found my coastal mikan village.
But I couldn’t just walk into the village and ask a farmer to take me on as an apprentice; I needed a proper introduction. I sought out contacts for several months, and eventually it turned out that my husband’s former colleague’s wife’s husband’s childhood friend’s wife’s colleague’s friend’s cousin was a mikan farmer in that village. On one extraordinary day all of those individuals gathered in the tiny village restaurant to formalize introductions and arrange for me to apprentice for a year.
After that, once a week, sometimes twice, I drove two hours each way to the village to work a full day in the mikan groves. Eventually I was able to rent rooms in a nearby village farmhouse, and for a while moved there with my daughter.  The year stretched into eighteen months. At one point an American-born niece of the farmer came to visit, and observing her in that environment got me thinking about a YA story of a bicultural character coming back to visit relatives. Ultimately, I set aside the other novel to focus on Orchards.   
What inspired you to write a story centered, among other things, on both suicide and bullying?  Have you been directly affected by school bullying—in your own childhood or through your two children?
I think everyone has been affected by bullying at one time or another. I witnessed plenty growing up, and as a young adult was bullied badly by a coworker at a summer job; when the manager ignored my complaints, I felt I had no choice but to quit the job. Our children, when younger, as non-Japanese in Japanese elementary schools, had to fend off repeated verbal and, in the case of our son, physical abuse.
Have you been directly affected by teen suicide?
Orchards is a book I wish I hadn’t had to write and is dedicated to the three individuals whose deaths by suicide directly impacted me. First was a friend’s fourteen-year-old daughter; I learned of her death while holding my infant daughter in my arms. The news stunned me and haunted me for years. About ten years later, my brother-in-law committed suicide, leaving a grieving wife, two young children and many devastated family members who had tried for years to help him cope with bipolar disorder. Soon after that a dear friend lost his wife to suicide. At that point, I started hearing Kana’s voice in my head. Hesitantly I began writing the lines of verse, thinking I was creating a poem. Soon, I put aside all my other writing projects and let Kana speak.
ORCHARDS also deals with teen depression. Among adolescents, one in eight may suffer from depression, but less than 30 percent of those get help. What message do you hope readers take away from Ruth’s story?
I hope that teens feeling depressed will talk to friends, parents, and teachers and that those friends, parents and teachers will take them seriously, listen and point them to professional help. Depression can usually be managed. I hope that all my readers will learn to recognize signs of depression and that schools will step up efforts to screen for depression and suicidal tendencies.
School bullying seems universal. You’ve lived in Japan for over a decade, and have children who attend/attended Japanese schools. Is bullying as rampant over there as it is in the U.S.? 
Bullying is, unfortunately, a major problem in Japan. In schools, in the workplace, and in local communities, the pressure everywhere is to conform. Anyone outside the norm struggles in Japan, and for non-Japanese, it is nearly impossible not to stick out. Most biracial or non-Asian children in Japanese schools have suffered from bullying. Boys tend to be physically abused; our son was hit on the head, and shoved and punched daily. Our daughter was cruelly verbally abused by one group of boys. Our children had good friends who provided sanctuary and helped shield them from the bullies, but in our son’s case, that sanctuary was simply not enough and we ended up removing him from that school.
Why did you choose to write from the point of view of a girl who contributed to the bullying rather than the girl being bullied?
I wanted to write from the point of view of a suicide survivor in the throes of the complicated guilt-ridden grieving process. Kana participated in bullying a peer in a rather passive way, the way in which many teens do, as a follower and a condoner rather than an instigator. In the beginning of Orchards Kana is not fully aware of her role in the ostracizing and bullying of Ruth, but by the end of the novel she has come to realize that not acting to stop bullying can be as damaging as instigating bullying. Kana is haunted by Ruth’s death, and her reflective summer in Japan allows her to see what she could have done differently.
ORCHARDS is also an uplifting novel.  Was it important to portray Kana as someone who could reflect and turn her guilt into life-affirming action?  The other girls, too, seem deeply affected by what they’ve done—especially Lisa, the ringleader of the bullying.  Do you think most bullies recognize and regret their behavior?
I wanted Kana to turn her grief into action, which is one way that survivors cope. Unfortunately Lisa suffers from her own issues, as is often the case with bullies, and she is alone during one of her moments of vulnerability.
Bullying is a form of abuse; it is harassment, violence. I am hopeful that more children, teens and adults will begin to recognize what constitutes abusive language and behavior and learn how to avoid it. To achieve peace at any level, we need to listen and communicate. We need to develop empathy, and we need to create environments in which even those who are outside the norm are treated with respect.
Everyone makes mistakes. As they say in Japan, saru mo ki kara ochiru—even monkeys fall from trees. But bullies can be taught to recognize their behavior and learn from their mistakes. Whether they do or not, depends on various factors, including the environment and whether the bullying is enabled by others. Peers need to speak up. Sometimes just a single word can put a halt to bullying and cause a bully to reflect and ultimately stop the abuse. 



Starred Review, School Library Journal, March 2011:
"Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss."

Review, Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2011:
“Eloquently captures a teenager’s anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. . . . Understated yet potent verse.”

Review, Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2011:
“A fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide.”

Review, Booklist, January 1, 2011:
“Readers will want to talk about the big issues, especially the guilt of doing nothing.”
Review, VOYA,
“Compelling. . . . Teens who enjoy learning about other cultures will relish Thompson’s ability to evoke the sights, smells, and tastes of Japan, while poetry fans will enjoy the novel’s unique format.”

Review, The Winston-Salem Journal, March 20, 2011:
"This lyrical look at bullying and the afterschocks of suicide may be gut-wrenching, but Orchards is crafted with a sensitive beauty."

From the Hardcover edition.
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

Orchards (Delacorte/Random House, 2011) is a multilayered novel, dealing with many issues, including identity. Half Japanese and half Jewish-American, Kana has been raised in New York, but her visit to Japan helps her connect with her Japanese roots. The novel also deals with bullying, depression and suicide.

Discussion Guides

1. Are you bicultural, either by heritage or by circumstances (such as living outside the culture into which you were born)? If yes, how has that shaped you as a person? If no, how do you think being bicultural would affect your sense of identity?


School bullying seems to be universal. Early on, Kana tells her mother that she “didn’t do anything.” Her mother’s response is, “Exactly!” and Kana is sent to her relatives in Japan to reflect on her actions. Do you believe a passive bystander can be as guilty as the person who does the overt bullying? If you've been a bystander to or participated in bullying, what made you behave that way? If you have been subjected to bullying, what did you do about it, if anything?


In the story, it’s revealed that Ruth, the girl who committed suicide, was probably bipolar. Have you had to cope with any form of depression among your friends and family? Has that made you more aware of how others behave and what behaviors might indicate depression? If you have suffered from depression, have you been able to confide in someone and get help?

4. Has anyone you know ever expressed suicidal thoughts? How did you react? Victims of suicide often give warning signs of their risk for suicide—language or actions that indicate depression, acute distress or vulnerability. Suicide can be prevented! In Orchards, what were Ruth and Lisa’s warning signs? What other warning signs do you think Ruth and Lisa might have exhibited? What could you do if a friend gave such warning signs?

5. Jake had become a friend and confidant of Ruth’s. Why do you think this friendship developed? In an email, Jake said to Lisa “Turn yourself into someone/better than you were/that’s all we have to do/that’s all we can do.” What did Jake mean by this? By the end of the story how is Jake now vulnerable?

6. Why do you think author Holly Thompson chose to write from the point of view of Kana, a girl who contributed to the bullying rather than the girl being bullied? In what ways is Ruth present as a character throughout the novel?

7. Why is the novel called Orchards? What roles do the mikan and apple orchards play in the story? What might they symbolize at different points in the story?

8. How do Kana’s relationships with her relatives change over the summer? How do relationships with her peers evolve?

9. What aspects of Japanese culture were revealed in Orchards? Which cultural details interested you the most?

10. Orchards is a novel in verse. How does the verse affect the telling of this story? Do you think Orchards would have the same impact, or be different, if written in prose? 

Suggested Readings

Some related resources:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (see the About Suicide section)
Holly Thompson’s website:

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