(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Like Kadohata’s first novel, Kira-Kira is set within the tightly knit world of a Japanese American family in the American South in the 1950’s. The novel’s title is actually the first word her sister Lynn, who is four years older, teaches the narrator, Katie Takeshima. In Japanese, Kira-Kira means “glittering.” To the consternation of their traditional mother, Katie and Lynn apply kira-kira to everything they like, including Kleenex tissue. Even though the two sisters are very close, Kadohata shows how each views the world slightly differently. This occurs when a dog attacks them, and each credits the other with saving her life.

Soon, Katie’s parents decide to move to rural Georgia. There, Japanese Americans work as chicken sexers. Right after a chick hatches, the sexers determine its gender. The description of Katie and Lynn’s travel with their parents and an uncle to Georgia is told by Katie in Kadohata’s trademark style of observant detachment and with a keen eye for what really captures the attention of a quirky young girl.

Throughout, Kira-Kira is more direct in pointing out the pervasive attitude of racism in 1950’s America than was evident in Kadohata’s first novel. The Japanese Americans must pay two dollars more for a motel room in the back, and at school, the Caucasian children do not talk to them for a long time. The uncle’s wish to become a land surveyor is shown to be an impossible one despite his qualifications, as non-Caucasian applicants are routinely rejected.

Yet the focus of Kira-Kira lies on Katie’s deadpan narration of growing up in a slightly off-kilter environment. At her first day at school,...

(The entire section is 702 words.)