I remember seeing this book for the first time when I was about eight years old, at a Borders in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, while digging around for discount copies of the Ramona books. But I didn't read it until last November. The cover struck me as beautiful and ethereal, yet sweetly sad, and that is exactly what Kira-Kira turned out to be. Kira-Kira means beautiful in Japanese, and the story lives up dazzlingly well to its title.
Sisters Katie and Lynn move with their parents to Georgia, hoping that their parents’ new jobs at a chicken processing plant will allow the family to purchase their own house. Lynn always helped Katie see the bright side of life, but as she gets older and eventually becomes deathly ill, the sisters grow distant, to Katie’s chagrin.
My favorite thing about the book was its voice. The narrative matures along with Katie as she grows from six to twelve, and sees more dreadful and wonderful things. Katie talks with the reader openly about her worries for her overworked parents and her childish dreams of her imaginary future husband.
The one thing that caught me off guard was the amount of time the book spanned: close to six years, all blended together and left me somewhat clueless at times as to how old the characters were at the exact moment, or if the scene was one of a handful of frequent flashbacks.
Also, some elements were not exactly middle-grade. These were nothing extreme, but the whole book has a very mature, melancholy tone, full of personal suffering. While I related, I don’t know if I would recommend this book to someone under twelve.
On the flip side, though, I would read this book every day of the week and twice on Saturdays as opposed to picking up other more recent and more blockbuster "sick-lit" YAs for an hour. Kira-Kira is gentle, genuine, and isn't emotionally dramatized or romanticized. The only word I have that can summarize the beauty of its narrative is its own title: kira-kira.
Rating: Four stars
Favorite character: Katie
Recommended age: 12+
Content notes for parents: a few instances of “d---“ and “h---.” One lady exclaims a warped version of “s---" and a very young Katie asks her father what the word means. He responds in Japanese, but the reader doesn't see this. Someone vandalizes a car, and the process of butchering and determining the gender of chickens is described briefly, without too much detail. Katie wonders how her baby brother came into existence. Some smoking.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, check out Shannon's blog here.