The novel Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata is a novel that is very prevalent in current times. It concerns Japanese-Americans in the 1950s. Katie and her older sister Lynn begin the novel in Iowa and then move to Georgia. Their parents are first-generation Americans who have been educated in Japan. The girls are raised as American but are still deeply involved in Japanese culture.
This book does a great job of portraying the fine line between assimilation and abandonment of culture. The girls go to a “white school” and have white friends, however, when they come home they are surrounded by Japanese culture. At the beginning of the novel, World War II has just ended. For most Americans, people of Japanese descent are still viewed as suspicious and possibly even treacherous.
The other major aspect of this novel is Lynn’s diagnosis of childhood cancer. There have been many books written about cancer patients and survivors. In my opinion, there are very few books that actually portray cancer patients realistically. The “suffers” do not get angry or upset. They do not cause anguish or worry. They simply bear their diagnosis in silence. This book accurately portrays the good and bad days of an illness without the pretense that either Lynn or the rest of her family are saints.
I think the author does a great job of portraying two fairly tough subjects, prejudice, and cancer. She presents them through the eyes of an extremely young girl, Katie. You can tell that Katie knows something is wrong but she is not quite old enough to understand it. That goes for both issues that run through this book. For a family to be simultaneously dealing with racism and a terminal diagnosis, is a lot, to say the least. Both issues are portrayed in a kind, compassionate and realistic way.
Although Katie can seem a little flat, the author portrays her in a way that she becomes both an insider and outsider. Katie is clearly not the focal point of the story. However, she gives the audience a bird’s eye view of what is happening. Essentially, Katie is a normal child whose family is going through some very extraordinary circumstances.
This novel’s poignant presentation of the difficult subject matter. The power in the author’s words makes you root for this family. She presents their situation, not so they can be pitied but so that we the readers can commiserate. I strongly believe this novel should become required reading in both elementary and middle grade. It does an excellent job of taking two very scary subjects and making them a lot more approachable.