Kira Kira: Novel Summary:chapter 2-6
While the adults pack, the children play soldiers with the chess set. During a break Uncle Katsuhisa challenges Lynn to a game, but Lynn beats him three times in a row. That night, Lynn and Katie listen to their father and uncle talking in the evening as they sit on a tree stump. Katie, who is about five years old, still likes to sleep with Bera-Bera, her favorite stuffed animal.
They leave Iowa the following evening, later than they had planned, after they experience some delays. The girls ride in Uncle Katsuhisa’s truck while their parents drive their own car. Katie is puzzled because she was happy in Iowa and sees no reason why they should have to move. She thinks of Bera-Bera and starts to cry. Lynn cries too. But Katie cheers up when Uncle starts singing to her, inserting her name into all the songs. Then he starts to sing Lynn songs, and Lynn is happy, too.
This chapter shows that although they live in the United States, the family still observes its Japanese traditions. They drink ochazuke, traditional Japanese tea—green tea mixed with rice—and Uncle Katsuhisa teaches the girls about the constellations, including the Sode Boshi, the “kimono sleeve,” which is the Japanese way of seeing what in the West is called Orion. However, although they are Japanese, they inhabit two cultures, the Japanese and the American, and this is brought out just before Katie mentions the Sode Boshi, when Uncle Katsuhisa sings “America the Beautiful,” for the girls. The tension between these two cultural worlds, the American and the Japanese, will become one of the themes of the novel.
On their journey they pass through St. Louis, Missouri, and Nashville, Tennessee. In St. Louis, they stop to get supplies. Lynn and Katie walk down a city block and look at tall buildings, which are taller than anything they have seen before. In Nashville, they stop again. Uncle goes into a pawnshop and buys a chess set. They stay the night in a hotel. The receptionist thinks they are Indian or Mexican and treats them rudely. They must stay in one of the back rooms, and they get charged two dollars extra for this.
In their room, Uncle plays chess with Lynn, using his new chess set, which he calls lucky. Katie sits on the bed with Bera-Bera watching the game. Uncle takes a long time to make a move in chess, while Lynn moves quickly. Lynn wins the game.
When they arrive in Georgia Katie discovers that she does not understand what people say because of their southern accents. People stare at them in restaurants. They notice that whites sit at the front and blacks are directed to the back, so they are unsure where to sit and order to-go instead. They drive by some antebellum mansions and arrive in the small town of Chesterfield. There are six other Japanese families in the town, and all the men work at the hatchery in a neighboring town.
They arrive at Uncle Katsuhisa’s house. He is the only Japanese in town who owned his own home. He was able to buy a house because he had inherited some money after World War II. Katie’s six-year-old twin cousins, David and Daniel, and Auntie Fumiko, greet them.
That night the other Japanese people in the town come over for dinner. The adults talk business. Katie’s father will be working as a chicken sexer (someone who distinguishes the sex of chicken hatchlings), separating the male chicks from the females. Katie, Lynn, and the other children play until bedtime. Then Katie and Lynn sleep on the living room floor. Katie thinks of all the things she misses about Iowa.
In this chapter Katie experiences direct racial prejudice for the first time in her life. This occurs in Nashville, in the American South, just before the civil rights era that began in the mid-1950s. The receptionist at the motel calls them at first Indians, then Mexicans. To the receptionist, it does not matter what they are, since they are plainly “different,” that is, nonwhite. Not only do they have to rent rooms at the back of the motel (rather in the way that African Americans had to sit at the back of the bus in the public transportation systems of the time), they also are charged extra for it, which adds insult to injury. Katie’s father simply accepts that this is the way things are; his family needs a room so he does not make a fuss about it. Katie of course sees everything through the innocence of a child’s eyes. When she notices how tired the receptionist is she does not see a prejudiced woman but wonders “if her parents loved her as much as mine loved me” (p. 31).
This chapter also reveals the author’s gift for humor, as seen in the chess match between Lynn and Uncle, in which Uncle takes about fifteen minutes to move a pawn and Lynn (aged about eight or nine at this point) makes her moves almost instantly and still wins. Kadohata also excels at capturing the child’s way of thinking and having fun. When a half-moon shines through the windows, “My sister and I practiced our howling and barking so we would be able to talk to our dogs if our mother ever let us have any” (p. 39).
The family moves into a small apartment building. They have to think creatively to get the most out of the small space. Katie is one of three preschoolers in the building, but she prefers to play by herself rather than with the other children. She waits for Lynn to return from school. Lynn emerges the leader among the children as they amuse themselves after school. Lynn and Katie agree to save the nickels their father gives them so they can help their parents buy a house.
After a year, Katie is ready to start school. Lynn warns her that some of the children at school will not talk to her because she is Japanese. She points out that their parents’ friends are all Japanese; the other people in the town ignore them.
For her first day of school, Katie’s mother cuts Katie’s long hair short and curls it. She also dresses her in a party dress. Katie gets through her first day without too much discomfort.
That year Katie’s mother gives birth to a son, Samson, shortened to Sam or Sammy. Another Japanese woman, Mrs. Kanagawa, who lives in the apartment building, takes care of Sam while his mother works at the factory.
In the small town of Chesterfield, almost all the Japanese people live in the same rundown apartment building. They are poor people who must make to with what they have. When the Takeshima family arrives there, they find that the wallpaper in the kitchen is dirty and peeling, and there is mold on the wall in the bathroom. The author does not belabor the point, but makes it quickly and moves on, but poverty and unremitting hard work for low pay will become one of the themes of the novel.
This chapter, like the earlier chapters, shows how the Takeshimas live in two distinct cultural worlds and the difficulties this involves for them. Children of immigrants, who are born in the United States, usually fit in more quickly with the local culture than those who grew up abroad. This is shown in rather an amusing way when Katie picks up a Southern accent when she is still only six, using the Southern expression, “you all” instead of “you,” and pronouncing the name Lynn “Lee-uhn.” This makes people want to talk to her because of the novelty of it. But soon after, Lynn warns the that some of the kids at school will not want to talk to her. Katie does not understand why this should be so, and Lynn’s explanation reveals the ugliness of the racism she may be about to encounter. She says that the white people in the town “think we’re like doormats—or ants or something!” (p. 51). So there is a twofold process going on here. On the one hand, the Japanese kids are regarded as an intriguing curiosity; on the other hand, they are shunned. Katie herself notices this. When Sam is born, everyone is fascinated “by this little Japanese baby” (p. 56). But, she adds, “when he grew up they would probably ignore him and treat him like an ant!”
Katie likes looking after Sam; in turn, Lynn looks after her younger sister. For a couple of years, nothing much happens, according to Katie. They go on camping trips sometimes, but school is boring. The tranquility of life changes, however, when Katie is ten. That is when Lynn gets sick. She gets tired a lot and the doctor prescribes iron pills. However, she still is able to help Katie get better grades at school.
Lynn is now fourteen and pretty, and she becomes close friends with Amber, one of the popular girls at the school. She and Amber begin to spend a lot of time together; Amber wants to be a model, and she and Lynn practice walking very upright, with books on their heads. Lynn wants Katie to do the same, but Katie is just bored by this activity, and her attitude hurts Lynn’s feelings.
Uncle and his family take the girls camping one weekend. The girls want to go so they can be near Gregg, a popular boy in Lynn’s class, and another boy, who are also going camping. At the campsite Katie, asked to make a fire, accidentally sets a sleeping bag on fire. They manage to put it out, and Auntie persuades her husband not to get annoyed with them. With arrows, Uncle shoots some rabbits for dinner, but Katie faints at the sight of them. They remind her of Bera-Bera, her stuffed animal.
The darker theme of mortality is sounded here for the first time, with the initial signs of Lynn’s illness that will eventually prove fatal. The dream Lynn has in which she is swimming in the ocean also foreshadows Lynn’s death. The dream makes her cry because she feels it was her spirit swimming, not really her. When Katie asks her to explain she says the spirit is “the invisible part of me” (p. 54). Katie does not understand, but she will later in the story. Throughout the story, the image of the ocean is bound up with Lynn. It is mentioned many times in the context of Lynn’s love of the sea, a feeling she has even though she has never seen it.
Kate gets her first exposure to adolescence through Lynn, who has become interested in boys, but in this chapter she is still very much the child. She is not ready for her first encounter with death, which is a bloody one in the form of the dead rabbits. The rabbits simply remind her of her favorite stuffed animal, and she faints. She is not yet ready for the leap in maturity that she will soon be called upon to make.
Uncle shows Amber how to shoot, but as she releases the arrow she trips, and the arrow flies only a foot from Uncle’s head. Lynn and Amber then go to eat dinner at the boys’ campsite. Katie and the others eat rabbit, which Katie does not like much, and then they sit around the campfire listening to Uncle telling stories.
Katie wonders whether Lynn is French kissing with the boys. Lynn has told her about French kissing. But Katie will only try it when she is older, she says, and only with her true love. She imagines him to be a boy named Joe-John Abondonalarama, and she expects to meet him at the Grand Canyon when she is seventeen. They will marry and have seven children. When Lynn returns, she tells Katie that she did indeed kiss Gregg. Katie tells them about Joe-John Abondonalarama and they both laugh hysterically, thinking she is joking.
Katie is too young to have a real boyfriend so her dreams of true love remain in the realm of childish imagination. She is not interested in any actual boys at school. This is in contrast with Lynn, who is old enough to learn firsthand about boys and what boys and girls to together. When Lynn and Amber laugh at Katie’s story about Joe-John Abondonalarama because they think she is joking they do not realize that Katie is not old enough to be able to satirize or make fun of romantic love. Her childish dreams are exactly the way she feels. Although Lynn is only four years older than Katie, the gap seems more than that at this point, and this is why Katie feels a bit lonely and wishes she had a friend who understood her.