Adult author Cynthia Kadohata makes her debut in children's literature with Kira-Kira, a fictional memoir of filial love. Telling her tale through the strong, believable voice of 10-year-old Katie Takeshima, Kadohata has set her narrative in post-World War II America. Katie reflects on her relationship with her teenage sister Lynn and her little brother Sam, and her memory reaches back to her life in Iowa, where her parents ran a grocery store. Unfortunately, there were "hardly any Oriental people in Iowa," and the failure of the business forced the family to move to Georgia, where they joined the many Japanese workers providing cheap labor for the poultry industry.
For Katie and Lynn, prejudice is part of everyday life in the rural South of the 1950s: poultry workers are considered second-class citizens and the Japanese workers are regarded with suspicion. Katie's mother puts money aside for her lifelong dream of buying a house for the family, and her father works long hours at the plant.
Kadohata's story soars when Katie focuses on her relationship with her family. In Katie's eyes, Lynn is perfect. Lynn tries to warn her about the prejudice she will experience in school, and she teaches Katie the word kira-kira, which means "glittering" in Japanese. It soon becomes Katie's favorite word, an adjective to apply to just about everything she loves, from puppies to butterflies to colored Kleenex. When Lynn makes friends, she even allows her younger sister to join in the group. But things change when Lynn gets sick, very sick. When it's obvious that she won't recover, Katie experiences real grief for the first time in her young life.
Kadohata has created a convincing narrative about overcoming obstacles, about the bonds of family and the clash of cultures in America during the 1950s. Kadohata's gentle storytelling never strays from the honest voice of her young narrator. Even when Katie recounts the loss of her sister, her voice is plain and strong, never maudlin or false. Kadohata has written a quiet, powerful story that lingers long after the last page is turned. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Fall
Katie Takeshima's first-person voice is compelling and often quietly humorous as she describes her family's move from Iowa to Georgia and her older sister's subsequent struggle with lymphoma. Katie's shrewd descriptions of people make startlingly vivid this novel that captures both the specific experience of being Japanese American in the 1950s and the wider experience of coping with illness and loss. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #2
In this debut novel for young people from adult writer Kadohata (The Floating World), Katie Takeshima's first-person voice is compelling and often quietly humorous as she describes her family's move from Iowa to Georgia and her older sister's subsequent struggle with lymphoma. Katie worships her sister; it was Lynn who taught Katie her first word (kira-kira, Japanese for glittering) and Lynn who "said she would teach me everything in the world I needed to know." But the sisters become less close the year Katie is ten, as fourteen-year-old Lynn starts to grow up; worse, though, is that Lynn starts feeling sick. Katie's shrewd descriptions of people--relatives, friends, strangers--make startlingly vivid this novel that captures both the specific experience of being Japanese American in the 1950s and the wider experience of illness and loss. Like Meg in Lois Lowry's A Summer to Die, Katie is able to see what her family has lost and also what they've gained through her sister's death, leaving readers with a glittering sense of hope. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2003 December #2
Katie loves and admires her older sister, Lynn, only to lose her in this story that reads like a memoir about a Japanese-American family in the 1950s. Built around the loss of Lynn to lymphoma, it belongs to Katie and stays true to her perspective. The supporting cast of extended family and friends also fits within Katie's vision of life. Humor keeps the depth of sadness at bay as Katie reports events: "If a robber came to our apartment, I would hit him over the head with a lamp. So I didn't need a bank, personally." Starting out in Iowa, the family moves to Georgia; both parents work long hours in the poultry industry to buy and then pay for a house of their own. Kadohata weaves details of life for a Japanese-American family into the narrative along with Lynn and Katie's gradual acquirement of understanding of the dominant culture around them. The vivid writing and the portrayal of a most loving and honorable father lift this above the norm. "Kira-kira" is Japanese for glittering, and Kadohata's Katie sparkles. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2004 October
Japanese-American Katie's and Lynne's early childhood in rural Iowa does not prepare them for the family move to Georgia when their parents' Asian food store struggles. When their parents work long hours at the non-unionized chicken processing plants, both girls see the darker side of the American dream. Buying a house seems impossible, when their parent's age before their eyes and prejudice from whites is a regular experience. When Lynne becomes ill after their baby brother is born, Katie must cope with the transition from being in the shadow of her "perfect" straight-A sister to being the caretaker of her weak, sickly sister. Even the purchase of a small house fails to keep Lynne alive. Katie's voice is strong as she reflects on a childhood mixed with hopes for a better life, and shadows of darker realities. Her honesty with herself gives her a grace few characters are given. Heartbreaking and gripping, this is a powerful multicultural novel. Recommended. Julie Scordato, Young Adult Librarian, Reynoldsburg Branch of the Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Library © 2004 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 February #2
Set in the 1950s and '60s, Kadohata's moving first novel is narrated by a first-generation Japanese-American girl who moves with her family from Iowa to Georgia when their "Oriental foods grocery store" goes out of business. There, Katie and her family face hardships, including discrimination (she is ignored by the girls at school, for example), and the harsh conditions at the poultry plant where her mother works ("thugs" make sure workers do not gather so that they cannot organize). Katie's father often sleeps at the hatchery between shifts, and when their babysitter goes away, Katie and her brother must stay in the hot car outside the plant while their mother works. But it's her doting older sister Lynn's struggle with lymphoma that really tests her family. Katie's narrative begins almost as stream-of-consciousness, reflecting a younger child's way of seeing the world. But as she matures through the challenges her family faces, so does the prose. Kadohata movingly captures the family's sustaining love-Lynn and Katie secretly save their treat money for years so they can help their parents buy a house, and when ailing Lynn gets to pick the house, she chooses a sky blue one, because Katie as a "little girl,... had told her [she] wanted our first to be sky blue." The family's devotion to one another, and Lynn's ability to teach Katie to appreciate the "kira-kira," or glittering, in everyday life makes this novel shine. Ages 11-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 March
Gr 6-8-Katie's first word is "kira-kira," the Japanese word for "glittering," and she uses it to describe everything she likes. It was taught to her by her older sister, Lynn, whom Katie worships. Both girls have trouble adjusting when their parents move the family from Iowa to a small town in rural Georgia, where they are among only 31 Japanese-Americans. They seldom see their parents, who have grueling jobs in chicken-processing plants. Then Lynn becomes deathly ill, and Katie is often left to care for her, a difficult and emotionally devastating job. When her sister dies of lymphoma, Katie searches for ways to live up to her legacy and to fulfill the dreams she never had a chance to attain. Told from Katie's point of view and set in the 1950s, this beautifully written story tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrendous work conditions. Katie's parents can barely afford to pay their daughter's medical bills, yet they refuse to join the growing movement to unionize until after Lynn's death. All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie, who acts as a careful observer of everything that happens in her family, even though there is a lot she doesn't understand. Especially heartbreaking are the weeks leading up to Lynn's death, when Katie is exhausted and frustrated by the demands of her sister's illness, yet willing to do anything to make her happy. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist.-Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2004 August
Kadohata's touching story of sibling devotion is a glittering tale, as its Japanese title suggests. Set in 1950s rural Georgia, it recounts the story of a Japanese American family struggling against prejudice and exhausting labor at a poultry factory in order to build a rewarding life. Told from the perspective of young Katie from the age of five through twelve years old, the story offers her humorous and innocent observations of her close family and the important life lessons that she learns from her adored older sister, Lynn, who has encouraged Katie to dream and to appreciate everyday things. The inseparable sisters plan to spend their futures always close together; however, everything changes when Lynn gets sick and is diagnosed with lymphoma. The prolonged illness overwhelms the emotionally devastated family. Katie's mother and father become distant and impatient under the weight of the medical bills that threaten their home, and Katie, who had always been cared for by her older sister, must now become the caretaker, causing bitterness, anger, and confusion for the first time Middle school girls will relate to Katie, her heartfelt everyday concerns, and her agony when Lynn dies. In the end, she tries to honor her sister's memory through the valuable lessons that Lynn taught her and by always looking for the glitter, the kira-kira in life. Readers who enjoyed Sis Deans's Everyday and All the Time (Henry Holt, 2003/VOYA October 2003) or The Letters by Kazumi Yumoto (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002/VOYA October 2002) will appreciate this lyrical story of coping with death.-Eileen Kuhl 4Q 3P M Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.