The Last Leaves Falling - Sarah Benwell

Genre: YA/Fiction
Synopsis: 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.


Review: What a beautiful little book. I loved everything that was in this book; I think my only problem was what it was lacking. Set in Japan, and told from the perspective of the fairly-likeable Sora, the reader is given snapshot insights into the gradual deterioration of the narrator as his body is consumed by a terrifying, terminal illness. Snapshots include parts of his daily routine with his mother - getting up in the morning, cooking dinner - writing to his grandfather, visiting the doctor, and talking to friends online - and as each thing becomes increasingly difficult - and ultimately impossible - the heartwrenching reality of something so terrible is portrayed incredibly gently. At times, it is the utter softness with which the sad things happen that make them so hard to read.

During the final months of his condition, Sora finds new friends online. His conversations with these friends break up the monologue of narration by including chat logs of both the forum he finds them on, and the private messaging system where they make contact and ultimately become friends. Both Mai and Kai are extremely likeable characters (particularly Kai, he is what we call in Ireland 'a lad' - an affectionate term for a cheeky but charismatic young fella). Both Mai and Kai are struggling with discovering and following their dreams, and it is in light of Sora's own inability to follow his that they find the courage to follow theirs. The combination of knowing they will go on to live their lives, and that they brightened the final days of Sora's, make this book uplifting and hopeful.

While I loved the beautiful writing, the clever use of chat logs, the characters, and the occasional oriental twist - I was very much taken in by the beauty - the more I think about it now, the more I feel it lacked. It was too short, it needed more character development. It didn't feel like it took place in Japan, it felt like it could have taken place in any western country. And ultimately, I found the ending very problematic. It was sweet at the time, but I feel like in reality about an hour after the ending things would go rapidly downhill for everyone. I would definitely recommend reading this book, it's definitely worth the experience of drifting through the brief intersection of these kids' lives, but it's not quite perfect. Will definitely read more by this author.

Rating: 4/5

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