In Japanese “kira-kira” means something like “glittering” or “glittery.” Katie and her sister Lynn use this word to describe everything. Their mother says they’re not using the word correctly and she bemoans the fact that they haven’t been to Japan yet, but she works hard for her family.
The family, mother, father, Lynn, and Katie start out in Iowa. Their father owns an Asian market there, but it doesn’t do so well. There simply aren’t enough Asian people in their area to keep the market going. The family never considered themselves poor as long as they had enough rice.
The plan is to move to Southern Georgia where mother and father will work for a chicken plant. Uncle will help them move. They will live in an apartment building with all the other Japanese people in the area, who also work at the chicken plant. Mother and father work many long hours to save for a house for their family.
The years pass by. A little brother comes along, he is named Sammy. Lynn gets her own friend, but a strange and sudden fatigue comes over Lynn that no one is ever able to explain for several years. Lynn and Katie are as close as can be. They have many adventures in their life. They go camping. They go on picnics. They get into a bit of trouble. Their parents are long-suffering and go to work day in and day out, sometimes not even coming home for days at a time. Lynn and Katie are often left to themselves with Sammy.
Lynn’s fatigue comes back. Doctors are visited. Hospital trips are in order. Nobody tells Katie what is wrong with Lynn, but the adults know. A sky blue house is purchased so the family can be in a house for Lynn. Lynn has to stay in the bedroom by herself. Katie and Sammy have to sleep in the living room. Katie gets mad because she has to take care of her sister and she still doesn’t know what is wrong.
Time goes on and Lynn gets sicker and sicker. She’s just not the same Lynn she used to be. The family hardly ever seems to be together anymore. Mother and father area always working. Finally, the inevitable happens. Father does something completely out of character when it does, but life moves on. Katie knows she has to be better for her sister.
What I liked
This is the story of a hard-working immigrant family. Those stories are always tough. While it is true that there are rags to riches stories, immigrant stories are often very difficult. It used to be extremely difficult for immigrants to fit in when moving to the United States. We have all these sayings about how The United States is a melting pot, but in reality, things don’t melt so easy. Over time they melt, but it takes a very long time for the different substances to break down and play nice. It’s not as easy as throwing white chocolate and dark chocolate into a pot and having it melted in five minutes. Cultures clash. People are suspicious. People are scared. People hold hatred for anything that is unfamiliar. People think they’re better because they’re one race or the other.
Look, we all know that one race is not better than another race. We’re in a more enlightened time, at least I would hope we are. We’re all still people no matter how you look at it. During the time this story was written that wasn’t so. People were deeply prejudiced still. We are talking about South Georgia after all. I grew up in Georgia, not everyone is a bigoted jerk there, but there are still enough holdouts that they give everyone else a bad name.
Let me tell you a true story about South Georgia. I was once talking to a man from South Georgia. I talked to him shortly until he chose to use the word “colored” for anybody of African-American descent. I don’t agree with this usage and I find it derogatory. I quit talking to this man. While it is true that it’s his opinion and he can say whatever in the heck he wants to say because he has free speech, it’s not very nice to use such an antiquated term which was at one point an insult.
A place like South Georgia is slow to change and I think Cynthia captured that quite well. I don’t like the fact that South Georgia is slow to change. Yes, I know it’s in my “what I liked” section. I like that Cynthia captured an era and a prejudice so well.
What I didn’t like
My family has some experience in chicken processing plants. They are dangerous, dirty, disgusting places to work. They don’t pay well. There aren’t really any unions. I don’t know where Cynthia got this idea of a union in a Southern chicken processing plant from. Maybe it really happened at one point, but as far as I know, Southern chicken processing plants do not have unions. Most of who works in chicken processing plants are immigrants. There are life-long American citizens who work in chicken plants, such as members of my family, but that’s an exception, not a rule. It’s very difficult work.
Disease and injury are common mainstays of any meat processing plant. If you think the idea of Katie’s mom wearing a pad to catch urine while she works her shift is awful and far-fetched, it’s not. It’s been documented. Meat processing workers aren’t treated with the same respect as workers in other fields. It’s very rare for a meat processing plant to get shut down because they have such strong lobbies in congress. Here’s a fun fact, if your death is caused by something that happens in a meat processing plant your family only gets 75,000 dollars; that’s it, nothing more. A human life isn’t worth more than $75,000 to the beef processing industry. Granted, that may have changed in the past few years, I’m not exactly up on all USDA legislation the United States passes.
Cynthia only scratches the surface of the terrible life that Katie’s family is living. What is described is a very hard life on anyone. I don’t think the reader can really gather how terrible this life is unless they’ve done their own research or known someone who has worked in a chicken plant. In the end, Katie’s family works their butt off only for one of their children to succumb to an illness that perhaps could have been defeated with the proper resources. Life is not easy for them at all.
This book was a great fictional look into the life of immigrant chicken plant workers and their struggles.
Do you believe that Katie would manage to make her sister proud in her later life?
If you have ever cared for a dying loved one, do you find that Katie’s anger towards the situation was warranted?
chicken plant, chicken processing plant, cynthia kadohata, georgia, immigrants work in chicken processing plants, japanese immigrants, katie, kira-kira, Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, lynn, working in a chicken plant
Books Set in the South, Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Kadohata-Cynthia, Young Adult