I haven't read a novel in verse in a while, so I was really excited to hear there was another good one out there, and I was not surprised after having read it to find out that it was nominated for YALSA's 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults. As most novels in verse are, it's quite powerful. The story is about a young girl, Kana Goldberg, who has a classmate who committed suicide. Kana and her friends face a lot of guilt, both for overt actions of unkindness toward the girl but also of complicity in doing nothing to stop negative behaviors or to make the girl feel less excluded.
Kana, a Japanese Jewish girl, is sent to Japan for the summer following her classmate's death to reflect on her behavior and to help her mother's family with their citrus orchard. Kana has hard time fitting in in Japan, and I think although it is very difficult, this helps her to understand her classmate's feelings in a way she might otherwise never have. Kana does a lot of growing up in Japan, and it is a difficult coming of age journey for her. And then just when she's getting herself in order, the author delivers a second punch that is very unexpected. Personally, I didn't think it was necessary and thought it was a little disruptive to the flow of the story, but I would be interested to hear what other readers thought.
I love the telling of this story in poetry. I think it fits the subject matter and the setting beautifully. I also really like the woodcuts that decorate the pages. I would recommend this story to seventh graders and up.If you read this and like it, try Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones.
I am reading another story right now about a girl going to a foreign culture to meet family she's never known, and it's interesting to make the comparison. That book is called How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, and you can look for a review of it soon.