April 12, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2011

Poetry for World Suicide Prevention Day

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. This year's theme is "Preventing Suicide in Multicultural Societies."

When we consider suicide among teens, most people think of high school age children. However, middle schoolers are also at risk. As teachers, I'm sure many of you have the way suicide devastates families, classmates -- the entire community of the child.

Orchards by Holly Thompson, is a YA novel in verse that looks at suicide's effects on younger teens.

A few years ago, I met poet Holly Thompson at a  Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Holly teaches at Yokohama City University in Japan, where she is also the regional adviser for SCBWI.

The bonds of poetry have kept us in touch. I was thrilled when Holly shared her novel-in-verse with me before it went to final edits.

Orchards is spoken in the voice of Kana Goldberg, a bicultural middle schooler growing up near New York City with her sister, Jewish father and Japanese mother. The book opens just after the suicide of one of Kana's classmates, Ruth. Concerned that Kana's circle of friends had been bullying Ruth, Kana's parents send her to spend the summer with her Japanese family.

Kana is not the only one of her friends sent away. She imagines telling Ruth:

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...
the rest of us
in orbitals farther out
less bound
less stable
and you --
in the least stable
most vulnerable
outermost shell

I've read several critiques of novels-in-verse lately, complaining that they are nothing more than fiction cut into skinny lines. Not only is there poetry in Orchards, but poetic form communicates Kana's fitfulness. She is between two cultural worlds, between youth and adulthood, between grief and anger.

Because I come from a bicultural family, I connected deeply with the pulls Kana feels between her two "sides." As the mother of two kids around middle school age, I also valued the way that Holly drew Kana's wildly mixed reactions to the suicide: anger that she and her friends had been blamed, growing compassion for Ruth.

Although she balks at first, having to work on her family's mikan (a citrus native to Japan) farm, Kana uses the time in the orchards for reflection:

my arms no longer ache
my back and shoulders
feel strong
but the day is long

and when conversation stops
among the leaves
and it's just the breathing
of wind in trees
and the mee-mee-mee-meeen
of cicadas
there is much
too much
for my thoughts

The author visiting a mikan farm with trees in bloom.
Eventually, after another tragedy, Kana discovers a way to help her classmates honor Ruth's memory.

Holly is running a giveaway at her blog -- sending out five copies of Orchards (anywhere in the world) to middle or high school students, parents, librarians and teachers. Please stop by before September 10 to put your name in the drawing.

I've also been following Holly's blog since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami this spring. Holly been working as a volunteer, helping to clean up shops and neighborhoods. She has posted some amazing and harrowing photos, along with narrative. I'm very proud to know this amazing poet!

Holly in her clean-up gear.

Holly is busy volunteering again this week, but sent a "thank you" to all of you who visit her at Hatbooks or share Orchards with a 'tween or teen in your life.

Today's Poetry Friday host is Katie at Secrets and Sharing Soda. Does the soda come in mikan flavor?


Tabatha said...

Sounds like a rich, multi-layered book, Laura. Thanks for telling us about it. One of my high school classmates killed himself while on drugs, and it was easily one of the most traumatic events of my teen years.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Tabatha. It's a very good read, gentle enough to share with younger teens. What a terrible thing to experience. As I said, suicide affects the victim's entire community. Very hard for teens to cope with.

jama said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights about this book. I can see from the samples the poetic quality of the verse and definitely want to read more.

GatheringBooks said...

I met Holly during the Asian Festival of Children's Content here in Singapore and I do have a copy of Orchards. Read many great reviews about it. I should open my copy soon! Thank you for sharing this. ;-)

Author Amok said...

Jama -- thanks for stopping by. Another aspect of the book is Holly's amazing knowledge and insight into Japanese culture from the eyes of an American. You'll be fascinated by the descriptions of the food!

Author Amok said...

Myra -- Orchards definitely deserves the great reviews. Thanks for visiting from Singapore.

Mary Lee said...

Wow. A poet in hazmat gear. Now THAT'S an image that will stick with me!!

mona said...

If our teens are in too much pressure then we should consider getting them out of the box to breathe fresh air. Thinking about World Suicide Prevention Day I just could not help but wonder why those who are aware of suicide still take their lives away meaningless.