Kristin's Reviews > Orchards

Orchards by Holly Thompson
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Apr 04, 11

Read on April 04, 2011

Orchards is a book about a group of middle school girls who contribute to a classmate's decision to commit suicide. The girls bully and ostracize her, and the ring leader, Lisa, gives Ruth a note stating, "I hope you die." Ruth then walks to her friend's family's orchard, where she hangs herself from an apple tree. None of this is a surprise - the reader goes into this novel-in-poems knowing that Ruth has killed herself. The story is told from Kana's point of view. Kana was part of the group who harrassed Ruth, and we learn that she is being sent to her grandmother's home/orchard in Japan for the summer to deal with the death of her classmate. Although Kana is sent to the other side of the world, it is significant that she's sent to work at her extended family's orchard; the same type of place Ruth chose to commit suicide. The reader sees Kana trying to work through her friend's death, acclimating to Japanese culture, and dealing with her bi-cultural heritage. (She is Japanese and Jewish).
I thought this book was ok. Maybe it's petty, but I am turned off when authors include too many references to cultural trappings such as Ipods and text messages. I think it ultimately leads to the degradation of the novel as it freezes it into a particular place and time, which for a novel like this, is not necessarily a good thing. (Meaning, it's not a historical novel, so its universal messages are now tied to the time period of Apple products and cell phones). Also, there are quite a number of poems devoted to descriptions of food and meals, which also annoys me. I suppose I could make some observation like: Kana is experiencing all of these mundane pleasures, like the shredded eggplant in her Bento box, or the miso soup she ate for breakfast, that her friend Ruth will never have the oppportunity to enjoy again. But, I'd rather just be irritated, I suppose. Also, toward the end, there is another tragedy that just seems haphazardly thrown in.
I don't think this book would work in a school setting. Kana's contribution to Ruth's suicide by way of being passive and allowing Lisa to bully her has potential, and could be a powerful lesson to students, but there's not much here to really excite students or motivate them to read this book. The poetry creates a veil around a difficult subject (nothing is too blatantly or violently suggested), so this novel could be read by middle school students, I think. I might recommend it to a student who has experienced bullying, depression, or suicide by a family member or friend.
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