Kira Kira: Novel Summary:chapter 7-12
Katie’s mother and father work long hours. Katie and Sam have to go with their mother to the poultry processing plant where she works, since there is no one to look after them. Lynn is staying at Amber’s house. The plant is in the next town, about an hour’s drive away. Her mother’s shift begins at 4:30 in the morning. Kate and Sam have to wait in the car until their mother can take a break from work.
As they wait, another car arrives, and Katie gets talking to the young girl who is accompanying her mother to the factory. The girl does the laundry at the plant, and Katie asks if she can come in and see the plant. But the girl says no. Then she has to hurry off because she sees a man she calls a “thug.” He has been hired by Mr. Lyndon, the factory owner, to keep a watch on the employees and try to hinder their attempts at forming a union. The thug does not like people gathering in the car park.
When her mother comes out, she tells Katie not to talk to the girl again, and reprimands her also for referring to Mr. Lyndon’s employee as a thug. She does not approve of forming a union. Katie’s mother then takes a nap in the hot car and Katie has to wake her. She rushes back to work. Katie and Sam spend the rest of the day amusing themselves in the car until their mother returns and drives them home.
This chapter gives a glimpse of the tensions that exist in the poultry processing plant where Katie’s mother works. The workers want to unionize since they are worked too hard for too little pay. They want to do this by organizing so they will be able to negotiate the terms of their employment as a group, which will make them stronger. Katie of course does not realize all this, and the industrial relations situation is just shown obliquely, in the few things Katie is told by Silly and her own mother, and the sinister presence of the “thug,” the representative of the factory owner who does not want his workers to join a union.
This chapter also shows the hardness of factory life. It is a low-status job, which for the Japanese who work there means another level of discrimination. Some people look down on them not only because they are Japanese but also because they work in the poultry plant. The work is physically hard, too. When she gets home, Katie’s mother’s wrists are sore and she can hardly move them. Also, the workers are pushed so hard they are not allowed to take unscheduled breaks, so they wear pads in case they are unable to get to the bathroom when they need to. Katie’s mother is often exhausted from all the demands placed on her.
When they return home, Lynn is unwell and in bed. She had recently been getting tired a lot, but she seems worse than usual to Katie. Her parents are worried about her. Because Lynn may be contagious, Katie and Sam must sleep in the living room, with Katie on the floor. Their mother gets mad at Katie because she did not clean the bathtub, so Katie must do that before she is allowed to go to bed. She goes into Lynn’s room and Lynn says she has anemia and possibly something else, but the doctor doesn’t know what that might be.
The next day Katie and Sam go with their mother to the factory; Auntie Fumi will come to take care of Lynn. At the parking lot, the same girl as before comes over to say hello to Katie. Her name is Silly Kilgore. The girls chat, and Silly says her mother supports the formation of a union. The thug is not there; he is at another plant, where there has been trouble.
At dawn, Katie goes to explore the plant. She stands on a garbage can and looks into the window. She sees her mother and others at work. Katie falls off the garbage can. Two men appear, one of whom is the thug. Silly appears too, and the other man turns out to be her Uncle Barry. Uncle Barry leads the girls away and then drives off with Silly. Katie goes back to the car to look after Sam.
Over the next few days Katie becomes friends with Silly, and they exchange phone numbers.
The Takeshimas are a happy family but this chapter shows how Lynn’s illness starts to impose a strain on them. Katie’s mother speaks sharply to her, which normally she does not do, and nags her about cleaning the bathtub. Even her father is angry with her, which is quite unlike him.
Kadohata also uses a subtle foreshadowing of death in the story of Brenda, a little girl who died in a swamp before Katie was born. Her ghost is said to haunt the swamp. This was first mentioned in chapter 7. Katie and her mother pass the swamp on their way to work, and in this chapter Katie thinks she sees Brenda, “a pale girl in a white dress with a dog at her side” (p. 105). Bearing in mind that another girl, Lynn, is sick with a mysterious illness, the story of Brenda supplies an ominous undercurrent for the reader, although of course Katie herself is unaware of how soon she will have to deal with the death of someone she loves.
Lynn gets better. Katie has her eleventh birthday and invites Silly over. Katie bakes a cake, and the two girls play together. Amber is there too, and she thinks the younger girls are acting childishly, but Lynn thinks they are cute. When Mrs. Kilgore arrives to pick Silly up, she tells Katie’s mother that there will be a union meeting the following Wednesday. Katie’s mother thinks that organizing for a union may get them all fired, so she makes an excuse about the meeting.
That evening, Katie’s mother raises the matter of Katie’s poor grades at school. No one knows why she does not do better. Dutifully, Katie tries to concentrate on her homework, but she finds it boring, not knowing how to analyze a short story she has been given to read.
Lynn is sad that Gregg is moving away, and Katie suggests another boy in the class, Clifton, but Lynn is not interested in him.
The next day Lynn is tired again and sleeps most of the day. Her mother decides to take her to the hospital. Uncle Katsuhisa and his family come over to take care of Katie and Sam. They all play Scrabble. Katie takes a long time to make a move and her uncle gets impatient with her. Then there a phone call. Auntie Fumi takes it. When she has finished she bursts into tears and runs out of the room. Uncle follows her. It turns out that the phone call was from Katie’s mother. Auntie Fumi tells Katie that her mother said everything is all right, although it clearly is not.
Once again the reader gets a glimpse through the eyes of the child into the struggle that is going on at the poultry plant. Mrs. Kilgore appears to be a strong supporter of having a union. Katie’s remark that Mrs. Kilgore and her daughter live in an area outside of town where the houses do not have running water offers a glimpse of the poverty that exists in the area. If one remembers the comment in the previous chapter that the chickens processed at this plant are gourmet chickens that the wife of Mr. Lyndon, the wealthy owner, serves at banquets at their mansion, the point is well made that there is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor in this town, and that the employees work in harsh conditions for little reward. Katie notices that her mother is looking older than she did only a month ago. She is being rapidly aged by the combination of the long hours she works and her worry over Lynn’s illness.
Lynn returns from the hospital in two days, and her mother insists that she is fine. She just needs more liver and iron pills. Katie and Sam once more have to sleep in the living room. Later that night, Lynn comes to Katie and says that Amber has dropped her as a friend. She pretends not to care but she does really, since she has been crying. The next day Katie runs into Amber after summer school, and they insult each other and get into a fight. Katie punches Amber in the face before a passerby intervenes and makes them go home.
Katie’s parents decide to go to the bank for a loan to buy a house. Katie and Lynn give them the hundred dollars they have saved for this purpose by not buying candy. Their mother cries and their father kisses both girls and Sam. The bank approves the loan two weeks later, and the family soon buys a small house. Katie is thrilled with the new house, which has a grass yard in front and back.
Lynn gets better, and she, Katie, and Sam all go out on a picnic. They ride their bicycles and stop at Mr. Lyndon’s property. They walk across one of his fields, lay out a blanket and eat. Sam wanders off and gets his ankle caught in an animal trap. Katie prizes the trap open and releases Sam’s foot. They decide to carry the injured Sam home on the blanket but the effort proves too much for them. Sam’s ankle swells. Lynn tells Katie to go for help. Katie runs, gets lost, and then knocks on the door of an unfamiliar house in a good neighborhood. The woman who answers the door gets a middle-aged man named Hank Garvin to help. Hank takes his truck and drives with Katie to the rescue.
Apart from the fallout that follows Amber’s dropping of Lynn, much of this chapter shows good progress for the family. Lynn seems to be better and they buy their own house. But once again the tensions in the community are made apparent. Katie hears that a pro-union worker has been beaten up, and when she, Lynn, and Sammy go on their picnic, they go on to Mr. Lyndon’s property. His historic mansion is in stark contrast to the modest house the Takeshimas have just bought. Katie and Lynn think that when they become rich, they will buy the Lyndon mansion for their father, since he refers to it as his dream house. Of course, this is just a childish dream. It emerges that Mr. Lyndon is widely unpopular in the town, and the fact that Sammy gets his ankle caught in an animal trap on Mr. Lyndon’s property is a symbolic way of suggesting that his employees are all caught in the trap of working for low wages in bad conditions to keep someone else rich.
Hank picks up Sam and drives to the hospital. He picks Sam up and takes him inside, where he is treated immediately. Hank waits with Lynn and Katie, and their parents soon arrive. It turns out that Sam has broken no bones and will be fine. Katie’s parents are very grateful to Hank. That night their father goes to retrieve the bicycles they left behind but finds they are gone.
In this chapter Katie learns an important lesson, and she is well aware of it: “White people were not really mean to me, but they were rarely nice, either. And here was Hank, acting like we were the most important people in the world” (pp. 153-54). In other words, Katie learns that people cannot be stereotyped according to their race or ethnic group.
That fall, Lynn is too sick to attend school. In October she is hospitalized. When their mother stays at the hospital, their father takes Sammy and Katie to the hatchery while he works there. Katie enjoys seeing all the baby chicks; she and Sam also enjoy running errands for the workers. Katie talks to one of the female workers who inoculates the female chicks; she wants to know if the inoculation hurts the chicks. After twelve-hour shifts, the workers sleep in their sleeping bags. Katie’s father gets to sleep only four hours before he is back at work again.
During a storm the power goes out, which means that some of the chicks may die as the incubator cools. The power is out all over the county but Mr. Lyndon has enough influence to save his hatchery. A man eventually comes, accompanied by a sheriff, and fixes the backup generator.
On Halloween night they all visit Lynn in the hospital. She is weak but manages to smile. Her father works almost all the time so they can pay the medical bills and the mortgage. In November, Lynn comes home. She loves to be read to from the encyclopedia about anything concerning the ocean. Katie plays hooky so she can spend more time with Lynn. One day Lynn says she wants some nail polish. Katie has no money, but she goes to the store anyway and steals some polish. As she leaves the store someone grabs her by the arm but she manages to run away. At home, she paints Lynn’s nails.
When she gets home the next day, her mother is there with another woman, who identifies Katie as the girl who stole the nail polish. Katie’s mother offers the woman a dollar in payment and promises that Katie will be punished. After the woman leaves, Katie’s mother cries and leaves the room.
The next evening, Katie’s father informs her that Lynn has lymphoma, a serious disease. He also says Katie must go to the store and apologize for stealing the nail polish. Katie then looks up lymphoma in the dictionary and realizes that Lynn might die.
Katie apologizes to the owner of the store, and he gives her a lecture about the dangers of becoming the black sheep of the family.
Lynn seems to get better on some days and worse on others. But then come days when her eyes seem to glaze over and she does not respond to her environment in her usual ways.
The incident at the plant when the power goes out is used to show once again how powerful Mr. Lyndon is. This is important for the later incident in which Katie’s father takes out his frustrations on the factory owner’s property since it pits the powerless against the powerful.
The main point of this chapter, however, is that Katie learns another lesson as a result of the theft she commits at the store. She steals only because she wants to get some nail polish to please her sick sister, and she has no money. But she learns that even if her motivation is unselfish, she cannot just take what she wants, even if it is only a small thing for someone else.