Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira

by Cynthia Kadohata
Publisher: Atheneum
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
List Price: $8.99 Sale Price: $7.64

An average one- or two-star review of Kira-Kira will tell you not to read the book because it's depressing, it's boring, or there are too many irrelevant events and characters. Those aren't reasons not to read a book, really: a depressing story can teach us, a boring story can speak truth, and irrelevant characters aren't always irrelevant.

The reason to avoid Kira-Kira is simpler: it's not for kids. It's not offensive, the prose is excellent, and the main characters are children. And yes, we believe kids should read about death, prejudice, and family problems. There's no reason to shelter them from the world in that way. But if the novel is for adults, why market it to young readers?

Cynthia Kadohata's novel is a good one. Elegant, humorous, and quite real, she manages to see things mostly through the eyes of a child. But this is an adult novel. The reason it's for grown-ups and not kids is that it's so utterly solemn. Kadohata never offers any fantasy, anything truly lighthearted, anything young to make us think that the book is meant to be read by kids.

Kira-kira is Japanese for glittering; it's the first word narrator Katie Takeshima learns. Her idolized older sister, Lynn, teaches it to her, and Katie applies it to everything from puppies to Kleenex. Their mother insists this use of the word is very un-Japanese, and vows to take her girls to Japan someday. And the girls are un-Japanese in many ways, living in the American Midwest ca. 1950.

When the family moves to Georgia, they experience bigotry and prejudice. Then Lynn gets cancer. For the Takeshimas, Lynn was kira-kira, whose outlook and cheeriness got them through much difficulty. As she fades, they begin to disintegrate. Some of the best passages in the book come at this point, with the immature Katie coming to terms with her sister's gradual death.

All this is very well done. But it's a modern novel that sees only the realm of harsh external realities, and looks only to human resolve for dealing with tragedy and hardship. It forces kids into an adult frame of mind, instead of using analogies to help young readers understand adult realities. Charlotte's Web also deals with serious topics, but presents them in a way kids understand.

Like most recent Newbery Medal winners, Kira-kira strips all metaphysical elements from life, and replaces them with introspective existentialism that creates hope and happiness from thin air. Hope comes only from God, happiness only from His merciful hand; Ms. Kadohata obviously doesn't know that, and therefore her novel is unnecessarily mature and ultimately falls flat.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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