Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, was published in 2004 by Houghton.
Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Kati to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family beings to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira—in the future.
Kira-Kira is all Newbery Medal—the “slice of life” plot, the heartbreaking incidents, and the slight philosophical/poetical angle encompassed by the word “kira-kira.” It’s a good story, although I found it perhaps a little too disjointed at times. The problem with “slice of life” stories is that they jump around from event to event and sometimes do not do a good job of connecting them enough, leaving a particular scene feeling random.
Katie is a typical “Newbery” protagonist—a middle child who feels slightly out of place in her family, with the older sibling that she feels she can’t live up to. Nothing is really surprising in this book, least of all Katie’s development. I don’t want to seem that I’m putting down “slice of life” books, because many of them are done well and they are very effective at what they do when they are done well, and Kadohata does portray Katie’s life effectively—the alienation of being one of only a few Japanese people in the community, the effect on her parents of their long, hard hours at a factory, the difficulty of having an ill sister and the emotions that come with that. Some of the events described just seem haphazardly placed.
I am surprised that Kadohata did not portray anything about the aftereffects of World War II on Katie’s family. Perhaps that was supposed to be implied in the community’s treatment of the Kadohata’s, but this was a country that was fresh from having Japanese internment camps. I don’t know—perhaps things were as mild as they seemed in the novel. I obviously was not alive during that time. One comment by a girl in their classroom, however, seemed a bit of an understatement. Or, again, perhaps she meant it more to be implied in the alienation as a whole, and the factory jobs of Katie’s parents.
Kira-Kira ticks off all the “Newbery Medal” boxes: a “slice of life,” coming-of-age novel with some sort of sad plotline attached. I felt as if some of the scenes in the book were jarring and random, and nothing really stood out to me as particularly memorable, but it’s a decent enough book that does a good job of showing aspects of a different culture.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
We sat cross-legged on the floor in our room and held hands and closed our eyes while she chanted, “Mind meld, mind meld, mind meld.” That was our friendship chant.
She gazed at me solemnly. “No matter what happens, someday when we’re each married, we’ll own houses down the block from each other. We’ll live by the sea in California.”
That sounded okay with me. “If y’all are going to live by the sea, I will too,” I said. I had never seen the California sea, but I imagined it was very pretty.