Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Cross posted at The Newbery Project

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
2005 Newbery Medal Book

: Young Adult Fiction
Reading level:
Ages 10-14
272 pages
Aladdin (December 26, 2006)

Kira-Kira is my second book finished for the Young Adult Challenge hosted at Thoughts of Joy. Before I get into the review, I just want to say how much I’m enjoying getting back into Young Adult literature after quite a long hiatus. Aside from the Harry Potter series, I went many many years without reading YA literature, and I’m so glad this blog has inspired me to start reading this genre again. Now, on with the review.

Kira-Kira is the story of the Japanese-American Takeshima family, told from the point of view of Katie, the youngest daughter. We learn in the opening passage of the story that Kira-Kira means “glittering” in Japanese, and that it was Katie’s first word, taught to her by her older sister Lynn. It’s obvious from the beginning that Katie adores Lynn.

Born in Iowa to Japanese immigrants, Katie and Lynn have a nice childhood, but everything changes when the family’s oriental food store goes out of business, and they move to Georgia to become factory workers in a poultry processing plant. It’s here that Katie realizes for the first time that she is different. Shunned by the white Georgians, the Japanese community in Georgia is tight knit, but life is very difficult. Katie and Lynn’s parents work extremely long hours under harsh conditions. Katie and Lynn rarely see their father, and when they do, he’s exhausted. Their mother is forced to wear “pads” because bathroom breaks are not allowed in the factory. When their baby brother, Sammy, is born, the girls and a next door neighbor pretty much raise him. Just when things can’t get worse, Lynn becomes very ill, and the family’s bonds are tested.

This heart wrenching story is one that I will soon not forget. Cynthia Kadohata expertly gets into the mind of a girl Katie’s age who has to deal with some very adult situations but does not quite understand them. An example of this is when Lynn is very ill, and despite appearing very strong and brave in front of Lynn, Katie needs a moment alone and breaks down:

“I cried and cried. For a while as I cried I hated my parents, as if it were their fault Lynn was sick. Then I cried because I loved my parents so much. Then I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I just felt barren, my eyes felt dry. They sky was still gray. Everything was gray, the sky and the store and even my hand when I held it out in front of myself. I wondered in anyone else in history had ever been as sad as I was at that moment” (p. 199).

We also see racism, prejudice, and the unfair treatment of the factory workers through Katie’s eyes. While some have criticized this book and being slow and uninteresting for young adults, it would have been right up my alley when I was younger. Certainly, it’s not for every kid and may appeal more to girls than boys, but it’s a story that I think will impact many. It was completely deserving of its 2005 Newbery Medal win.

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:

In Spring it is the Dawn: "It was a moving story and I enjoyed hearing it through the voice of young Katie. It might not be full of action but it kept me turning the pages, wanting to read on about the family’s problems and how they coped with them. I came to care about the family, especially the sisters, and wanted to see how things turned out." (read more...)

If you have a review of Kira-Kira, leave a comment with the link, and I'll post it here!


  1. Thanks for a great review. This was a great book and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It had so many things to think about and I was rooting for this family to overcome all of their adversity!

  2. Natasha,'s one of those books that keeps coming back to me. I'll have a conversation or see something on TV and will suddenly find myself thinking of a character or story from the book.

  3. i love this book my teacher read it to my whole class and if your questioning to read this book don't question it any more it is a great book and anyone who will read it will love it!


  4. Rachael,
    Thanks for stopping by! I'm so glad you liked it and recommend it to others!

  5. kira-kira is an awesome book! I'm doing it for a book report at school and it is fun to do because I know tha I have a great story to look at. I would recommend this book to other people. Cynthia Kadohata, You ROCK!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I was looking through the list of books you'd read and was going to mention my review of this one but I see you beat me to it. I'll go add yours to my review post now too. :)

  7. this is a great book I read it and I absolutely loved it.I'm eleven and I hate books but this one is awesome. i wasnt forced to read I chose to.I've now read it about 3 times and tomorrow i doing a book report on it!!!!
    PS.also this is a great summary, good job

  8. Anonymous,
    Thanks for visiting and for your positive feedback! If you liked Kira-Kira, you may want to try Weedflower, another book by Cynthia Kadohata. It's about a young Japanese girl during WWII whose family is sent to an internment camp in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The camp is on a Native American reservation, and they aren't very happy about the Japanese being on their land. She then meets a Native American boy, and the two forge a strong friendship.

    Good luck with your book report!

  9. omg! i am 12 and this book is ammmmmaaaazing i loved it so much i did for a book report at school thinking it would be boring but it isnt it so heart warming how kaite goes through all of these devating states i loved ittt

  10. I have to read this book, for disgrace in the last month my work keep to busy, for that reason I don't have many time to read and make one of my favorites activities, read.

  11. My friend who lives in Japan said that she loved the book! She says she reads it over and over again. Cynthia Kadohata is great author!