For Ages
12 to 99

Winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature
An ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family's mikan orange groves.
Kana's mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana's father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

An Excerpt fromOrchards

Chapter One

Because of You

One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope
into your backpack
and walked uphill into
Osgoods' orchard
where blooms were still closed fists

my father looked up
summer airfares
to Tokyo

I protested
it wasn't my fault
I didn't do anything!

my mother hissed
and made the call
to her older sister
my aunt
in Shizuoka

nothing would change
their minds

all my mother
would say
as I followed her
through garden beds
transplanting cubes of seedlings
she'd grown under lights
in hothouses

all she'd say
row after row
in tight-lipped
you can reflect
in the presence of your ancestors

not that I'm alone
in being sent away-- 
Lisa's off to summer school
Becca to Bible camp
Mona to cousins in Quebec
Emily to help in her uncle's store
Erin to math camp
Abby to some adventure program
Noelle to her father's
Gina to her mother's
Namita to New Jersey . . .
all twenty-nine
eighth-grade girls
scattered, as Gina said,
like beads
from a necklace

but we weren't a necklace
strung in a circle
we were more
an atom:
arranged in shells
around Lisa,
Becca and Mona
first shell solid,
the rest of us
in orbitals farther out
less bound
less stable
and you--
in the least stable
most vulnerable
outermost shell

you sometimes
hovered near
sometimes drifted off
some days were hurled far
from Lisa
our nucleus
whose biting wit made us
around her
always close to her
indifferent to orbits
like yours
farther out than

after you were
found in the grove
of Macs and Cortlands
that were still tight fists
of not-yet-bloom
and the note was found
on your dresser
by your mother
who brought it to the principal
who shared it with police
who called for an investigation
and pulled in counselors
from all over the district

word got around

and people in town
began to stare
and talk
and text
about our uncaring

I don't think I
did anything to drive you
to perfect slipknots
or learn to tie a noose . . .
with what?
I wonder
backpack cords?
drawstrings in your gym shorts
as you waited for your turn
at the softball bat?

because of you, Ruth,
I'm exiled
to my maternal grandmother, Baachan,
to the ancestors at the altar
and to Uncle, Aunt and cousins
I haven't seen in three years--
not since our last trip back
for Jiichan's funeral
when Baachan
told my sister Emi
she was just right
but told me
I was fat
should eat
fill myself eighty percent
no more
each meal

but then I was small
then I didn't have hips
then was before this bottom
inherited from my father's
Russian Jewish mother

my mother was
of four children born
to my grandparents
mikan orange farmers
in a Shizuoka village of sixty households
where eldest son
inherits all

but there were
no sons
in her generation
so my aunt
eldest daughter
took in a husband who
took on the Mano name
took over the Mano holdings
became sole heir
head of household
my uncle

into my suitcase
my mother has stuffed
dish towels
framed photos of Emi and me
last year's raspberry jam
pancake mix
maple syrup--
and ten books for me to finish
by September

books she didn't pick
I know
because she only reads novels
in Japanese
and these ten are
in English--
books chosen by a librarian
or teacher
or other mother
with themes of
         reaching out
I want to shout

she also changed dollars
into yen
and divided bills
into three envelopes
labeled in Japanese--
one for spending
one for transportation and school fees
one with gift money for Buddhist ceremonies
to honor her father--my Jiichan,
this third summer
since the year
of his passing

the nonstop flight to Narita
is thirteen hours
door to door
my home in New York
to theirs in Shizuoka
is a full twenty-four

on the plane there is
time . . .
for movies
journal entries

I have never been to
Japan alone
never traveled anywhere alone
except sleepovers
and overnight camp
for a week in Vermont

on the plane
flight attendants chat with me
unaccompanied minor
praise my language abilities
assume it's a
happy occasion
my returning
to the village of my mother's childhood
for the summer

but they don't know
what I know, Ruth--
that it's all
because of you

Under the Cover