This is a blog specifically created for the purposes of my Literature for Children and Young Adults class at Texas Woman's University. Coming soon will be reviews of titles ranging from children's fiction to poetry to young adult novels. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. Kira-Kira. New York: Antheneum. ISBN 0689856393

Lynn is the big sister of whom we all dream. She is attentive, playful, full of life and as she puts it herself, a “genius.” After all, it was Lynn who taught Katie her first word, kira-kira, which means “glittering, shiny” in Japanese. Katie, who knows she has it good, worships her older sister. When they are both young girls, and their parents’ Oriental Food Store in Iowa goes out of business, they move to Georgia where their uncle has offered to help their parents get a job in a chicken plant. Once there, Katie goes through quite a lot. First of all, her maturing sister, her best friend in the world, seems to want to leave her behind in favor of the older girls. Then, to make things worse, her mother delivers a younger brother. Also, she has to endure hardships such as spending the day locked up in her mother’s car when she is sick and can’t go to school because there is no one at home to take care of her—she nearly wets herself needing to go to the bathroom… Still, the workers inside the plant are not much better off—some of them have to wear absorbent pads because they are only allowed a certain amount of time for bathroom breaks. But the worst thing that could ever happen comes to pass. Lynn the genius, beautiful, perfect sister comes down with lymphoma. The roles reverse and Katie is now the one responsible for taking care of Lynn, which is no easy task. With their parents gone all the time, working hard but not making enough to pay Lynn’s medical bills, Katie has to grow up fast. When Lynn dies, Katie takes over her diary and continues it on in celebration of the glittering light, the kira-kira, big sister who still lives in her heart.

This is an excellent book for both young women and young men. Even though the setting is in a time which is not contemporary to modern teens, the way the book is written makes the characters and events easy to understand. The description of the people with whom Katie and Lynn come in contact are complex and rich with humanity; and the places they go and experiences they have are so accurately told through Katie’s point of view that young people can easily relate to her thoughts and emotions. One very important detail in this book, in my opinion, is the reality of the dichotomy of the flawed hero. To Katie, Lynn is perfect, a role model, but at the same time, once she falls ill, she is weak and becomes dependent on her little sister. This should shatter Katie’s view of her sister—and it does take some of the shine off—but in the end, after Lynn is gone, the big sister is glorified again. Just in a different light. This theme hits very close to the young readers heart—they are at a period in their life where they are searching for whom they are and whom they want to become. They look to others around them—some “perfect”, some perfectly flawed—as a ruler. The language in this work is simple enough for us to believe that the story is being told from the point of view of a young person, but not so condescendingly so as to underestimate they eye of the reader. It is not dumbed down. And what it lacks in maturity of language, it makes up for in content. There are many serious and somber events that take place in this story which bring up situations and emotions with which teen readers are faced daily—even if they are not in the form of a sister dying or having to spend the day in the car.

The following excerpt is representative of the mastery of content, language and raw emotion of this story:

Because of Lynn’s medical bills, soon my parents were getting behind on the mortgage. All they did was work. My mother came home only to sleep, and my father did not come home at all. Auntie or Mrs. Kanagawa stayed with Lynn and Sammy during the day when I was at school. My parents were so exhausted, I wasn’t sure they even realized what arrangements we were making each day. Some days nobody stayed with us.

Most of the time Lynn slept, but anytime she was awake, she wanted attention. She wanted a bedpan, or food, or water, or sometimes just a little company. But sometimes she didn’t know what she wanted. In fact, it seemed that at least once a day she didn’t know what she wanted. That was the most exhausting thing. She would want me to read to her and then she wouldn’t like the book and would want me to sing for her. But she wouldn’t like that, either. My teacher had commented on the black circles on my eyes. A couple of mornings I even made myself coffee.

Booklist (Starred Review) says, “The quiet words will speak to readers who have lost someone they love—or fear that they could.”

Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review) says, “Lynn’s ability to teach Katie to appreciate the ‘kira-kira,’ or glittering, in everday life makes this novel shine.”

San Diego Union says, “It’s an unforgettable story, filled with memorable characters who find hope at the end of a very long road.”

Kirkus Reviews says, “ ‘Kira-kira’ is Japanese for glittering, and Kadohata’s Katie sparkles.”

Book Page says, “Kadohata has written a quiet, powerful story that lingers long after the last page is turned.”

Awards: 2005 Newbery Medal

This book would be a great place to start a discussion about how resourceful people can be in times of great need or how it feels to be discriminated against or to be put down for something out of our control (such as race, socioeconomic status or linguistic competence).

Review by Joelie Key-Tissot 11/23/06


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home