Teen Ink: Writer Holly Thompson talks about bullying: I didn’t initially set out with a plan to write about bullying or mental illness. Often we don’t choose our stories; they choose us. With Orchards, I set about writing lines of poetry that began swirling in my head after suicide touched my life. Bullying and mental illness are tough issues, but they are all around us…Orchards is dedicated to the three individuals whose suicide directly impacted me. First was a friend’s 14-year-old daughter; I learned of her death while holding my infant daughter in my arms. The news haunted me for years. About 10 years later, my brother-in-law committed suicide, leaving a grieving wife, two young children, and many devastated family members who had tried for years to help him cope with bipolar disorder. Soon after that, a dear friend lost his wife to suicide. At that point, I started hearing Kana’s voice in my head, and I began writing the first chapters of Orchards (Author Holly Thompson).
About the novel, “Orchards” 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’smikanorange 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 (Orchards).
Book Reporter: Holly Thompson, the author of ASH, grew up in New England and graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in biology. She’d not given Japan a passing glance until she approached her husband-to-be in a Maine island pub, intrigued by his footwear (geta) from his time spent in Japan. After teaching science for two years, she made her first move to Japan in 1983 and stayed three years–teaching English, writing, and beginning her exploration of the less traveled corners of the Japanese archipelago. She later received her Masters degree from New York University’s Creative Writing Program and after settling in the New York area for a number of years, uprooted and moved back to Japan with her husband and their two children. Her articles on such Japanese cultural issues as O-Bon festival rituals, tatami manufacturing, midwifery, and wedding customs, as well as on historic travel destinations, have appeared in magazines and newspapers in the United States and Japan, and her short stories have been published in The Broken Bridge anthology, Wingspan and various literary magazines. Her fiction tends to explore differences of sensibility, orientation and expression between Japanese and Americans and the impact of cross-cultural stress on personal lives. Characters include foreigners in Japan struggling to navigate a society lacking familiar referents, Japanese in the United States assimilating one moment and bowing to Japanese tradition the next, and children of intercultural marriages coping with often opposing identities. She currently teaches at Yokohama City University and lives and writes in Kamakura (BIO).
RELATED READING: Touched by teen suicide