Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2005 - Kira-Kira

I’m not sure how well I would have enjoyed Kira-Kira as a child. My tastes usually ran to exciting plot-driven stories, not meaningful character-driven tales, as this one is. I might have found it hard to identify with the Japanese girl and her family, not realizing at the time how universal are the main themes in Kira-Kira of family relationships, pulling up stakes to start a new life, the stress on the family to make a living in hard times, and other life-changing events.

Kira-kira means “glittering; shining” in Japanese. Katie, who tells the story in her own voice, loves and adores her older sister Lynn, who is always finding kira-kira in the everyday pieces of their lives. When they all have to pack up and move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the deep south of Georgia, Katie looks to big sister Lynn for friendship and guidance as she grows up and gets used to the new life. Lynn is gentle, thoughtful, smart, and kind. When she becomes seriously ill, it becomes harder for everyone to hold together the things that are most important to them as a family.

This tale could have been told in any setting—it is the family dynamics and Katie’s experiences that is the story. They face stares and some prejudice and are unsure of their status. The restaurants they ate in The restaurants they ate in had signs that read, "COLORED IN BACK." The whites ate up front. Since they didn’t know where they fit in, they just got their food to go. But these types of experiences do not drive this book.

A couple of things struck me in Kira-Kira. One was the introduction of Uncle. The way the girls first see him do not make him a character that you think you’ll like. It feels like he’ll be more trouble than he’s worth. Without making significant changes in the way he is, the author brings Uncle and his family into the family circle, makes us feel more affectionate toward him; he is accepted. Just the way it would work in a real family.

A thought-provoking subject that arose was the bad conditions that existed in the chicken “factory” where Katie’s parents worked, and their dilemma of whether to support the union. The image that stayed with me was the pad Katie’s mother had to wear since the workers were not allowed regular bathroom breaks, and the smell that sometimes accompanied her because of it.

I couldn’t get very excited about this book, a thrift store find, though I did enjoy reading it. If it weren’t a Newbery book, I’d probably pass it on to someone else.

No comments: