27 November 2011

Kira-Kira (Cynthia Kadohata)

Finished up my newer-Newbery run with the lovely Kira-Kira, a book which encompasses, in no particular order: the Japanese-American experience in the 1950s, the horror of chicken-processing plants (for both the animals and the humans who work there without benefit of union), the love (and friction) between sisters, and the havoc wreaked on a family when one of its members falls seriously ill. That's a lot for any novel to cover, and complex for a middle-grade book, yet Kadohata handles it fluidly.

I feel like I don't have much more specific to say, though? I guess I'll take it general: Kira-Kira's very much in keeping with the tradition of quality young people's historical fiction--like all my rereads and others I didn't get to (Jacob Have I Loved, Dicey's Song, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and so forth). So what's the appeal of this to kids? Speaking from my own experience, I loved reading about other children in places, times, and situations far different from my own, whether realistic or sfnal* (i.e., The Girl with the Silver Eyes, The Boy Who Reversed Himself). It is, I think, a form of empathy--inhabiting the lives of others, comparing reactions and emotions, finding commonalities. I don't think this is as easy to do with movies or television; you can identify with characters, sure, but you're necessarily seeing an actor who's not you. Narration, particularly in the first person, can eliminate this distance. (Of course, first-person narration can also create distance, but that's an essay for another day. OK, an essay I wrote on Poe in college specifically. Dude knew from unreliable narrators.)

Reading these books as an adult is a similar experience--with the added bonus that you can also recapture the feeling of being a child (and if you're rereading, the feeling of being a child reading the same book for the first time). Which is a roundabout way of saying that I've had a fantastic time with this project, and may return to it every November!

Stay tuned for a SPECIAL BONUS ROUND. Probably Wednesday.

*I learned a new word this week! Short for "science fictional." Pretty cool, eh? Also, Anne McCaffrey died. Sad face.

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