24 February 2011

Review: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Katie Takeshima, born in the early 1950s in Iowa, loves her older sister, Lynn, more than anything in the world. It is Lynn who teaches her to recognize kira-kira (glittering, shining) in the world: in the blue sky, in the stars, and even in people. But when the family is forced to move to Georgia because of financial troubles, Katie has to struggle to find kira-kira in the streets of the small southern town.

Because both her parents work long hours at the chicken hatchery, Katie rarely sees them, but she knows that Lynn will always be there after school to watch over her and their little brother, Sammy. When Lynn becomes seriously ill at the age of fourteen, the family can barely hold on, and Katie must discover her own hidden strengths.

In Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadohata beautifully explores the postwar years through the eyes of Katie Takeshima. Katie not only is the middle child but is also in the middle between her more traditionally Japanese parents and contemporary American culture. Although Katie doesn't see herself as being different from anyone else, when the family moves to the South, they are subject to prejudice, and the family is lost somewhere in limbo: not quite white and not quite black or Native American. Whether at school or checking into a hotel, the Takeshimas don't quite fit in.

The story is told as a flashback, so we know from the beginning that Lynn will die before Katie does, but Katie's memories are more than just a loving tribute to her older sister. From a child's perspective we learn that the 1950s were not golden years for everyone in America. The poor were exploited by the rich, and prosperity didn't come easily to all citizens. Katie herself is far from perfect, and she recalls her resentment and jealousy over how much attention her parents bestowed on Lynn and how painful it was when her sister became a teenager and found friends outside the family.

In Katie's transformation from innocent child to one of her sister's principal caretakers, she never lets go of the concept of kira-kira that was so important to Lynn. By the end, Katie tries to remind her family that there is still beauty in the world and, in turn, starts to understand some of the comfort found in embracing traditional Japanese customs.

Kira-Kira is a wonderfully written coming-of-age story, and Kadohata is becoming one of my favorite young adult authors. The novel has won almost twenty awards, including the ALA Newbery Medal. A study guide is available for teachers and homeschoolers; book clubs will appreciate the online reading guide.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Listening Library; 4 hr, 29 min) read by Elaina Erika Davis. Davis's vocalization sounds young enough to be believable as Katie without being annoyingly juvenile. She handles the accents--Midwest, Southern, Japanese--easily, and her varied pacing and pitch adds to the story.

Kira-Kira at Powell's
Kira-Kira at Book Depository
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Aladdin Paperbacks, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780689856402
YTD: 22
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: A-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

This review will be linked to Kid Konnection a regular Saturday feature at Booking Mama that focuses on anything related to chidren's books.


Alex 2/24/11, 8:27 AM  

I have had this sitting on a shelf for a while, but maybe I will have to read it. Your review made it sound so enticing. Thanks for the great review.

BookGeek 2/24/11, 8:33 AM  

This sounds incredible. Thanks for the review. I will definitely have to add this to my list.

April (BooksandWine) 2/24/11, 11:04 AM  

I love reading historical fiction about PoC. Too often most of the historical fiction I read is about white people, and when people of color are included, it's about slavery or the Civil Rights movement. SO OMG I want to read Kira Kira badly.

Fabulous review, Beth!

Madeline Mora-Summonte 2/24/11, 11:07 AM  

I read this book awhile ago and I'm so glad to see it reviewed here. It was an excellent read.

Anonymous,  2/24/11, 11:21 AM  

This sounds really good. I had not heard of this author before. I'm going to have to look for her.

Zibilee 2/24/11, 11:45 AM  

I bought this book for my daughter awhile back, and after she read it, she told me that it was one that I would probably love. Since then, she has read it about three more times, and every time she does, I get more and more excited about trying it for myself. It sounds like a very touching and introspective story, and like one that I would probably get very connected to. I loved your very expressive and heartfelt review of this one. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Kailana 2/24/11, 11:50 AM  

This sounds good. Great review!

Carrie K. 2/24/11, 12:39 PM  

I've listened to two of Kadohata's books on audio - this one and Weedflower - and loved them both. With all the paranormal and fantasy out there, it is fantastic to find a YA author writing brilliant historical fiction.

bermudaonion 2/24/11, 12:56 PM  

This sounds like a fabulous book, but I have to wonder why the family didn't face prejudice in Iowa after the war. (That's just me on my soapbox - I get tired of all Southerners being portrayed as racists.)

Julie P. 2/24/11, 1:14 PM  

I actually have this one and can't believe that I haven't read it yet. It sounds marvelous!

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown 2/24/11, 1:39 PM  

Glad to see you enjoyed this one! I bought it a couple of years ago but have yet to actually read it. Hopefully soon.

Beth Hoffman 2/25/11, 7:58 AM  

Wow, excellent review! I just added this to my to buy list.

Rebecca Rasmussen 2/25/11, 10:34 AM  

I am getting this now -- oh this just sounds like the perfect book for me :)

Tribute Books 2/25/11, 11:59 AM  

Now this one looks like a winner - thanks for spreading the word about it.

Buried In Print 2/26/11, 2:09 PM  

I really enjoyed this one too. It read very quickly and I felt completely immersed in their world. I've wanted to read another of hers, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Michelle 2/26/11, 2:30 PM  

This sounds like such a powerful read. I'll have to get to it when I know I have some lighter fare to follow it. Glad you enjoyed it so well.

Athira 2/26/11, 10:03 PM  

This book sounds wonderful! I've not heard of it, but it looks like a poignant read!

Meg @ write meg! 3/1/11, 11:44 AM  

I remember seeing and stacking this book on shelves back in my bookseller days, and it always sounded so intriguing to me! Sounds like I need to pick it up.

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