by Cynthia Kadohata
256 pages,
ISBN: 0689856393

Post Your Opinion
Kids' Lit
by Antony Di Nardo

Young readers and adults alike will be moved by Katie's story in Kira-Kira. Katie is Lynn's younger sister and her first person narrative chronicles the special relationship between these two young people. It's a story told from the heart about family love and, especially, about sibling love. It's a story about dealing with the death of a loved one. In the background, and sometimes at the centre of her narrative, is the story of the racial discrimination that Japanese-Americans endured in 1950s and 60s Georgia.
Cynthia Kadohata, who won a Newberry Medal for Kira-Kira, does an expert job of bringing about subtle, credible changes in Katie's narrative voice as she grows up amid her family's hardships. She reflects on the happiness and sadness she has known with her sister, whom she worships, and in that reflection she finds a richer meaning for herself and her family. Dealing with Lynn's lymphoma and eventually coping with her death, propels Katie to maturity. Despite her frequent sacrifices, and her anger, despair and confusion, Katie is always true to her childhood spirit. Her candid insights into the human heart and her strength grow out of that spirit.
There's very little that happens in the first half of the story. Writing about one ordinary day after another can soon cause the pace to lumber. But when we learn of the severity of Lynn's illness and the toll it is taking on Katie's family, the writing runs along and a very real and unique world of quotidian experience is brought to life. It becomes evident-by her tone, her words, and eventually her actions-that Katie grows from these experiences and that they steel her against the grief that follows Lynn's death.
Katie's parents are Japanese-Americans who have moved from Iowa to the Deep South and work excessively long hours in chicken processing plants. Her mother butchers chickens for the packing plant and her father is a "sexer", separating newborn chicks into males and females. Despite the brutal working conditions, her parents opt to work the extra shifts in order to save enough to buy a house for their family. At first they live in an apartment building, along with other blue-collar workers, which is situated below "the gnat line" of a small town where the bugs are worse. Katie also has a younger brother, Sam, and all five eventually move into what they call "Lynn's House" not far from their former apartment building.
Whenever the obstacles of her family's nightmare-reality overwhelm her, Katie escapes into a world of hopes and dreams, and sometimes mischief. Kaite adapts her fantasies to her daily disappointments-the same meals, her emotionally fragile mother, her C status at school, and Lynn's worsening condition. She hopes for better jobs for her parents, and dreams of living in a world where Lynn gets to see the California coast.
The story reaches its emotional climax when Lynn dies alone in her bed at home. It is New Year's Day and Katie, in observing Japanese tradition, has left her post by the bed to watch the first sunrise of the year. Lynn's death, though expected, is as much a surprise to the reader as it is to Katie. The writing is superb here: there's a compactness and intensity to it, a tenderness usually reserved for poetry.
Katie is given Lynn's diary almost a year later when she turns twelve and it's in her diary that Katie finds out about Lynn's love for her and about her dreams and aspirations. It's the diary that serves as the narrative's primary source. "Kira-kira", we are told, means glittering or shining, and it's the first word Lynn teaches Katie when she's a baby and they are looking up at the stars. In the end Katie learns to see her own "kira-kira" in a world without Lynn, a hopeful world glittering with other promises. Her tale well told, with a glow of its own, and in the character of Katie we meet a sincere and caring human being.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us