Adult author Cynthia Kadohata makes her debut in children's literature with Kira-Kira, a fictional memoir of filial love. Telling her tale through the strong, believable voice of 10-year-old Katie Takeshima, Kadohata sets her narrative in post-World War II America.
Katie reflects on her relationship with her teenage sister Lynn and her little brother Sam, and her memory reaches back to her life in Iowa, where her parents ran a grocery store. Unfortunately, there were "hardly any Oriental people in Iowa," and the failure of the business forced the family to move to Georgia, where they joined the many Japanese workers providing cheap labor for the poultry industry.
For Katie and Lynn, prejudice is part of everyday life in the rural South of the 1950s: Poultry workers are considered second-class citizens and the Japanese workers are regarded with suspicion. Katie's mother puts money aside for her lifelong dream of buying a house for the family, and her father works long hours at the plant.
Kadohata's story soars when Katie focuses on her relationship with her family. In Katie's eyes, Lynn is perfect. Lynn tries to warn her about the prejudice she will experience in school, and she teaches Katie the word kira-kira, which means "glittering" in Japanese. It soon becomes Katie's favorite word, an adjective to apply to just about everything she loves, from puppies to butterflies to colored Kleenex. When Lynn makes friends, she even allows her younger sister to join in the group. But things change when Lynn gets sick, very sick. When it's obvious that she won't recover, Katie experiences real grief for the first time in her young life.
Kadohata has created a convincing narrative about overcoming obstacles, about the bonds of family and the clash of cultures in America during the 1950s. Her gentle storytelling never strays from the honest voice of her young narrator. Even when Katie recounts the loss of her sister, her voice is plain and strong, never maudlin or false. Kadohata has written a quiet, powerful story that lingers long after the last page is turned.