Last Leaves Falling – Sarah Benwell – Definitions – Published 29 January 2015
And these are they. My final moments. They say a warrior must always be mindful of death, but I never imagined that it would find me like this . . .
Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.
I’m not sure how to write this review. Did I love it? Am I shocked, heartbroken? Well, Let me start by saying I never intended to read this book. It wasn’t on my to-read list. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until I saw it sitting on the table in our library’s back room, fresh from being catalogued and covered, and I picked it up. Entranced by the cover I started to read. And I never stopped (expect for a bit of work, of course). I was so intrigued by this book. What was its underlying message? By what does it define courage? I’m not sure I agree with its conclusions, but let me back up a step.
Sora is dying. He has ALS. A disease that means he will slowly lose all physical capabilities. Trapped inside his ailing body, he reaches out on a teen chat forum. There he forms a friendship with two teens. They discuss their dreams, their heartbreak, their daily lives. And life. And death.
This book is so beautifully written. I was simply ensconced in its cosy, but challenging, world. I loved the elements that the Japanese setting and culture brought to the story – the underlying cultural beliefs about children and elders and contributing, the food, the gardens and fish and art and cherry blossoms. The story has a great mix of face-to-face interactions and dialog and online chat interactions. Sora narrates the story in first person. There is a great, but small, cast of characters, including Sora’s friends Mei and Kaito, his grandparents and mother. A large part of this book is how Sora reflects on how his illness and death will affect those around him – he strives to know what they think and feel. From the start I never really knew where this book was going. Right up to the very last lines I was questioning and wondering. I truly enjoyed the journey, I’m just not sure about the destination. But this book certainly is thought provoking and beautiful.
Recommended for mature readers.
Category: Young adult fiction
Age guide: 14 and up.
Advisory: Mature themes surrounding death and suicide.
Themes: Illness. ALS. Japanese culture. Death. Friendship. Social issues.
Published: 29 January 2015 by Definitions.
Format: Paperback. 320 pages.