Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, tells a powerful story about family, love, and loss through the eyes of a young Japanese-American girl named Katie Takeshima. Katie’s best friend is her older sister Lynn, who teaches her to find everything kira-kira in life: things that glitter or shine, like the sky or the sea, which are “deep but see-through at the same time.” When their parents’ supermarket in a Japanese community in Iowa goes out of business, the Takeshima family must move to Georgia, where Katie’s parents find work in a chicken hatchery. The Takeshima children face the unwelcoming attitudes of their peers and other inhabitants of the new town; similarly, their parents face discrimination at work and must handle the question of whether or not to join the union. As the Takeshima family adapts to their new town, Katie and her siblings, Lynn and Sammy, try to find their way in the world, all the while remaining each other’s closest friends. Their parents gradually save enough money to buy their own house, but Lynn’s health deteriorates and Katie eventually learns that Lynn is dying. After her death, Katie reads Lynn’s diary and the family takes a vacation to California, where Lynn would have chosen to go because of the sea.
Kadohata writes quietly and flowingly, gently involving the reader in the lives of each member of the Takeshima family. Rather than reading a story about a burst of events, we spend several years with Katie, Lynn, and Sammy, and have the opportunity to watch them grow as their lives evolve. We also learn about social issues in the 1950s, such as the prejudice faced by the Takeshima family and the many factors and views that play into unionization. However, the story lives mostly in the relationships between family members and the changes the family faces and makes as a whole, and the family story is perhaps the most moving element of the book. We have the opportunity to see kira-kira not only in Lynn’s lessons or in the scene where Katie and Lynn watch tissues blow out and dance over a field, but in the everyday decisions the family members make and in the bonds between them. After finishing the book, we are left with the sensation of floating in a sea of kira-kira, seeing it and searching for it everywhere.