Last week, we posted the first half of our review for Orchards and Q and A with Holly Thompson. This week, we share the last part of our feature on Holly Thompson. This week’s Interview Wednesday is hosted by the amazing Zoe at Playing by the Book.
On Cliques, Atoms, and Universes within. We can catch glimpses of Holly’s strong background in science through Kana’s fascination with physics and the very sharp metaphor of teenage girls’ cliques as akin to electrons, atoms, orbitals. I have to confess I never thought of it this way, but looking at the imagery in Holly’s verse, it does capture its very essence:
but we weren’t a necklace strung in a circle we were more an atom: electrons 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 laugh spin revolve around her always close to her indifferent to orbits like yours farther out than ours (pp. 5-6)
I know how cruel some girls can be – I have a nine year old daughter myself. The entire notion of BFFs, best buds, and the cloying exclusivity – is what makes my nine year old gravitate more towards the boys in her class – where friendships are less complicated and not as riddled with many have-tos.
Q and A with Holly
Holly, you have a son and a daughter, would you characterize their sets of friendships (and how it may have developed/evolved over the years) to be quite distinct from each other? Or are there similarities that transcend gender differences?
Well, their personalities are completely different, their strengths, interests and activities have always been completely different, and their time of moving to Japan—the time of being immersed in another language—was quite different (our son was 7, our daughter 2) so their life trajectories and friendships have naturally been quite different. I do think that as a result of being bicultural they both make friends quite easily, and that because they have both dealt at different times with the type of bullying (sometimes vicious) that is often directed at non-Japanese children in Japan, they are both quite skilled at smoothing relations and easing conflict. Both of our children now tend to gravitate toward friends with similar international, multicultural backgrounds and sensibilities.
Bullying comes in various forms – there is even cyber-bullying nowadays, which can cause as much (sometimes even more) damage to impressionable, sensitive young people. Currently, do you know of any provisions in Japan that would help lessen incidents of bullying in the school and in the community?
Japanese culture relies on conformity, nonconfrontation, and hierarchy, and while those can be positive points, they can easily foster situations in which bullying can become rampant. There are now various school programs and more teacher training programs in Japan designed to help combat bullying, but sadly children and even adults are often reluctant to speak up against bullies or even to seek help indirectly for fear of repercussions. Last year during a discussion in one of my university classes, students were asked to offer suggestions for what they could have done if they’d been a classmate of an elementary school girl who’d recently been featured in the news for having been blatantly bullied for months; the teacher did nothing to correct the situation, the children did nothing to help, and she ultimately killed herself. I was stunned that many students in my class said there was nothing they could have done. Even when I suggested actions they could have taken, they disagreed, explaining that had they spoken up, the bullies would have turned on them. So although there have been some very positive steps in recent years, Japan still has a long way to go to educate the public about bullying and both active and passive forms of aggression.
Thinning and Cleansing. One of the things that really worked well for me in Orchards is how Holly was able to capture what it means to work in mikan groves. In the Acknowledgments Page of the book, Holly mentioned how it took her eighteen months to learn as much as she can about mikan cultivation, from planting to harvest.
I thought it was the perfect imagery and symbolism for Kana’s healing and transformation – shedding off thick skins of anguish and remorse to grow into something fuller and… whole despite the cross-cultural fragments that Kana pieces together to define who she is. Here are my favorite lines:
my legs ache from squatting down for low branches my arms ache from reaching up some days I want to chuck the fruit kick the rot I don’t know why my parents thought this would be good how they could think it would be right to go away be far away from Emi from friends from home but my mother and most of Kohama seem to agree the solution to any kind of problem of any magnitude is physical labor sore muscles blisters WORK
See, I couldn’t agree more. I ascribe to the same kind of philosophy. When in pain, read. Or work. Or run. Passivity has never been an option.
Q and A with Holly
Holly, I know you’ve spoken of this before, but could you share with us what the experience was like for you when you spent eighteen months researching and learning about mikan farming?
Working with the farm family was an extraordinary experience for me. Coming from New England, I have long had great admiration for small family farms, and Japan’s mikan farms reminded me in some aspects of apple farms near where I was raised. The cooperative systems in Japan are quite different however, and it was fascinating for me to learn not only mikan cultivation—planting, pruning, thinning, harvesting, sorting, storing, shipping—but also to learn more about the agricultural cooperatives and the way the close-knit villages operate. The family I worked with was extremely generous to me, an outsider. They shared their world with me and openly shared generations of lore and experience. My days on the mikan farm were so enriching that I was truly reluctant to end my research and go back to just writing.
What were some of your greatest learnings? Incidents that you won’t easily forget?
It is difficult to select. But I really valued my glimpse into a multigenerational farm family and the distinct roles each individual plays in the family. I had always viewed those roles
as perhaps confining, particularly for women, but I came to appreciate the different circles within a village and how the family circle interconnects with the other circles. Not being married to a Japanese, to have this bond with a family who taught me so much was an amazing gift. Over time and through their actions and words, the members of the family taught me their values, their love for the village, their ties to their ancestors, the way to care for and treasure their land. I learned how rewarding family farming can be.
Final Thoughts: Novels in Verse. This is the second novel in verse that I have read, the first one being Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust a few months back. It must be my love for lyrical verse and fascination with snapshots of emotions distilled in several lines of life’s details – that make me gravitate towards it. I am aware how people may seem to have mixed feelings about it. Others feel that it is merely prose, broken down into several lines on the page; while there are others who sense its raw power in communicating life’s barest essence in poetry that tells a story.
While I understand now that there are much longer and thicker novels-in-verse (I managed to borrow around 15 books from the library, so I am able to more effectively contrast and compare), I felt at the time that I was reading Orchards that it was a wee-bit too long for me and there were several instances when Kana lapsed into one-too-many one-way conversations with Ruth. Yet despite this, I also felt that it is evident how Holly has meticulously winnowed the superfluous details in the narrative – highlighting fragments that give voice to its own reality.
Q and A with Holly
As you know, we are currently doing a Poetry-Inspired Yuletide Cheer theme this November and December, what other novels-in-verse would you recommend to us for feature?
For younger readers Love that Dog and Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech are wonderful. There are many great young adult novels in poems and novels in verse. Helen Frost’s novels in poems, Keesha’s House and Crossing Stones, are excellent. Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas is extremely powerful verse novel, and Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is an immigrant story told simply and beautifully through free verse. David Levithan’s The Realm of Possibility shows how verse can so effectively capture different teen voices. Ellen Hopkins’ verse novels have demonstrated that verse can be successfully used to tackle tough, edgy YA subjects.
For picture books in verse, what are some of the must-reads that you feel we should have?
Actually in many picture books the text is a poem. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is a poem, and many of her picture books are developed from her poems. Where the Wild Things Are reads as a poem to me. David Almond’s Kate, the Cat and the Moon is a poem. Donald Hall’s The Oxcart Man is a poem. Those free verse poem-type picture books, where the words just sing off the page, are some of my favorite picture books.
Again, thank you so much for your time Holly. We are truly honored to have you in GatheringBooks.