Sunday, February 1, 2004

Kira-Kira: What Gives a Book Its Glitter?

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On the first page of Kira-Kira the main character, Katie, explains that the word means "glittering" in Japanese. As the book jacket says, Katie sees the world as glittering through the eyes of her older sister, Lynn. It doesn't take a genius at sketching out plots to guess that this is a sure sign that something will happen to Lynn. In the interest of not spoiling the book, however, I will leave it at that.

Instead my focus is on how to give a book its glittering quality. What makes it special? What makes it stand out above others? Certainly good writing, solid characters, and an intriguing story all contribute. There is, however, another ingredient which really makes a book shine. Imagination.

I believe a book is better when it has a fantastical element to it. What do I mean by that? Well, I'm a sucker for a very realistic story - with a twist. Craft a solid tale which feels real and throw in something quirky and you've got a good chance of hooking me. I cite John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany as an example. It is one of my favorite books precisely because it creates a believable world around a have-to-see-him-to-believe-him character.

This leads me to the challenge of Kira-Kira. As regular followers of this blog know, I'm on a mission to read all the Newbery winners. Kira-Kira won the Newbery in 2005. For me, however, it lacks glitter. It is a well-written story, but it feels so real that it reads more like an autobiography than fiction. It may be that author Cynthia Kadohata isn't writing from personal experience at all. Maybe she imagined all the events in the book. My take, though, is that too much reality is, well, too much. I want something magical, something imaginary, something fantastical. I want the glitter. What do you think?