Kira-kira is a Japanese word that describes things that glitter. It is Katie Takeshima's first word taught to her by her older sister Lynn as they lie in the empty road outside their house looking at the stars. Lynn teaches Katie everything worth knowing. When their family moves from their Japanese community in Iowa to Georgia, Lynn is the one who must explain why some of the other children won't talk to them at school.
The setting is 1950s Georgia. Katie's parents are American-born Japanese, but that doesn't change attitudes toward the family. Her mom and dad work in a poultry processing plant, in conditions typical of factories in the mid-1950s. Factory workers wear thick pads beneath their uniforms because they aren't allowed to take breaks to use the bathroom. Workers suffer permanent injury from long hours of performing the same tasks. They aren't given time off for sickness or family emergencies. Attempts to organize a union lead to beatings and other repercussions.
When Katie asks her mother about unions, her mother responds, "A union is when all the workers get together and fight the very people who have provided them with a job … It's wrong to fight the people who are trying to help you." Katie's mother is afraid of losing one of the few jobs available to Japanese-Americans.
Through the family's struggle to raise money for a home, it is Lynn who is always providing the link between the old and the new and helping the family to understand the process of assimilation. But when she gets sick, the family begins to fall apart. It is up to Katie to take on the role of big sister and eldest daughter.
This report prepared by Dipa Bhagwan
The title of Kadohata's fiction debut means “glittering” in Japanese. Lynn and Katie Takeshima use “kira-kira” to describe all the subtle wonders of being alive, from boxes of Kleenex to the light that dances in a person's eyes. For the Takeshima sisters, “kira-kira” is the heartbeat of hope, everything worth seeing and remembering.
In 1956, Lynn is 9 and Katie is 5 when the family moves from a Japanese community in Iowa to the rural Deep South of Chesterfield, Georgia. Mr. And Mrs. Takeshima take jobs in local chicken hatcheries where shifts are long and work conditions are poor. In addition to welcoming a baby brother (Sam) and adjusting to their new roles as latch-key kids, Lynn and Katie contend with racial discrimination and borderline poverty. Yet, even in the face of these adversaries, nothing seems difficult or impossible for Lynn. Her handwriting is neat, her report card is an unwavering stream of straight A's, and her future is "kira-kira." Katie strains unsuccessfully to live up to Lynn's example. As Lynn enters her teen years, the sisters drift apart and Katie struggles with middle-child loneliness.
Lynn is 14 when she is struck terminally ill with lymphoma. Although tragic, her death brings new opportunities for growth and maturation to the Takeshima family. Hoping to ameliorate medical expenses for future hatchery workers, Mr. and Mrs. Takeshima are inspired to join the movement for unionized labor.
This report prepared by Tracie Amirante