Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-kira is one of those books that I’ve felt guilty about for quite a while. It’s been on my “I really should read that” list for what feels like forever, so the Expanding Horizons Challenge finally inspired me to make it happen. I read Cracker for the Cybils MG Panel this year, and enjoyed it so much that I had high expectations for Kadohata’s first, Newbery-winning book.

Just about everyone and their dog has already read this book, so it feels goofy to summarize it here. However, for the uninitiated few, here it is in a couple of sentences. In the 1950s, the Takeshimas, a Japanese-American family, move from Iowa to Georgia where Mr. Takeshima begins working in a hatchery. The story follows the struggle of all of the family members as they work to grasp their meagre piece of the American dream. The novel is mostly about the profound relationship between Lynn, the elder sister, and Katie, the younger. From the start, Katie more or less worships Lynn, who is wise, kind and beautiful. When Lynn becomes seriously ill, the family’s future becomes all the more uncertain. 

This would be a difficult book for a kid to summarize. The narrative is not a series of clearly linked events. It follows childhood memories, in the way that an adult would remember them, drifting from one to the next in a loose, but chronological, chain. Katie narrates the story, and her childish voice seems true and direct. Almost immediately, it’s pretty clear to the reader that there is no happy ending coming your way. This makes the book compelling, in that “I know something sad is going to happen here” sort of way. I was drawn into the story.

There are kids out there who like to read tragic books (in part explaining the tremendous interest many children show in Holocaust literature). Kira-Kira is a book for this child, because man, is it sad. A lot of hard topics stare you right in the face in this novel: racism, unjust working conditions, poverty, terminal illness. At the same time, it teaches in a subtle way about responsibility, grace, hope and courage in everyday life, and in the choices we make as friends, family and community members.

I don’t think this is a book for every young reader or teen. It’s not easy to read. It’s not a book that most boys would give the time of day to. It isn’t exactly packed with page-turning action. It’s a book for thinkers. It’s a book for contemplating. I can imagine that it could be a strong book for a girls’ reading group, or a literature circle, as I think that the true depth of the story would best be appreciated in discussion. I do think that some children will not be able to tackle it, however, as it will prove too depressing or too slow-moving to keep them turning the pages. This isn’t a book likely to sell itself, but when it finds its way into the right hands, I imagine that its hidden beauties will shine through. 

10 thoughts on “Kira-Kira

  1. Melissa

    I think you’re right; this is not a book that will sell itself, but is one for the more contemplative kids. (My 11 yo wasn’t interested in it at all…) The one thing that did surprise me about it was that while the racism element was there, it wasn’t as blatant as I was expecting, (Maybe it was because I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry right before I read this one?) I was expecting something more overt, and was surprised it wasn’t.

  2. Vicky, a.k.a. iggystar

    I loved your review. It’s nice to have books that appeal to younger readers, hopefully I can offer some selections to my daughter in the future as she’s just starting her reading habit.


  3. shelfelf Post author

    Melissa – I completely agree with you on the racism element of the story. In fact, that was something I had intended to mention. I did expect it to be more overt, given what I had heard of the story. It was much more a background issue.
    Glad you liked the review Vicky!

  4. Pingback: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

  5. Maw Books

    I recently read this book and thought it was wonderful. Lynn’s voice was so real. I am amazed at how much “stuff,” for lack of a better word, is in this book. I’ve got Weedflower on my shelf and look forward to reading it as well.

  6. 213spongeb

    well i’m reading kira kira right now and i’m in 5th grade. Acutally its really easy for me to read and i understand katie. I think this book is wonderful. But in a way i do agree with you on what you said about the youth. This seems like a more early adult book. But to me when i read this book, i could picture everything and everything seemed so real.

  7. Amira

    i loved the book kira-kira it was sad, and also happy i had just finished the book. this book can be for any one. i read in 7th grade i loved it i can’t wait till you write a another book

  8. amira

    I had just read the book kira -kira, im in 7th grade. it was easy for me to understand the meaning. i could picture everything in my head. when i was reading this book i couldn’t wait for whats coming next in the book.

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