Title: The Last Leaves Falling
Author: Sarah Benwell
Release Date: May 5th 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 368
Summary: 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.
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A lovely gift from a friend (Thanks Jin Jin 🙂 ), I finished this novel in one short sitting. It was fresh, something I’ve never quite experienced before, with a tumultuous plot line. The dissonance of fear and happiness, the heartbreaking oxymoron of loss and a higher level of gain, tied pieces together for me and gave this simple novel a nice closure. The truth is, like many plots you go into it the ending is already told to you. The summary says that Sora will die, but that didn’t mean I didn’t go out of my way to pray this novel was a paranormal novel or sci-fi and somehow he could live. So let’s put it out there now, Sora will not survive, life is very unfair (I say in a very not pessimistic fashion) and loved ones are constantly lost in the blink of an eye. Now that that’s out in the open, let’s carry on with the review.
The characters of this novel was more than just realistic, they seemed so believable. Sora is a character with imperfections and flaws. He is going to die and he knows it, I cannot possibly in my mind imagine that feeling. I also don’t blame him for being pessimistic, it is the reason that he seems genuine. To him the internet is an escape, just like to many of us. We look for outlets, and creating a profile online where people cannot see him and label him “crippled” seems like the perfect plan. This is where our story begins.
“I stare at the cursor blinking expectantly at the top of the page. Who do I want to be? There are so many choices; honest, funny, brave. A superhero with a tragic past and bright, mysterious future; with superstrength or telekenetic powers. I could be anyone and they would never know.”
Sora’s mother is also believable. A caring single parent who worries and is there for her child. She isn’t always ok with everything that Sora does and is very much like any teenagers’ mother. Here’s a scene when she gets terribly angry at him.
“ ‘Sora!’ I’d been so engrossed that I did not hear my mother’s keys, and sock-clad footsteps. ‘Hi’ ‘What are you doing? Sit down before you hurt yourself-‘ ‘It’s fine, Mama. I’m fine. I’m cooking dinner.’… ‘ What were you thinking, Sora? Of all the stupid- dangerous things!’ “
Honestly, Mai and Kaito, Sora’s friends from online are so supportive, it’s incredibly heartwarming. They’re always there for him and in his journey, they are all that one can ask for. Going out for ice cream in cafes, having normal chats, and having deeper conversations about what to do after Sora is gone. They create a safe environment for him.
The plot of the novel flowed and was more of a memoir style novel although it isn’t. It lacked the need for events to occur and followed Sora’s story very closely and accurately. It is very necessary to acknowledge the fact the lack of events does not mean boring in any sense. Visits that Sora had to his grandparents’ house was incredibly engaging. The vivid imagery of their lovely house, the story of their cat who had died a while back, everything grabs your attention. The parts with the emails I found somewhat lacking. Reading internet conversations were banal and I skipped over them to continue the story.
There is something else that made this novel unique. There were snippets from samurai poems. They were well written and so beautiful to read. This is one of my most favourite ones in the entire novel. They were indeed something extra for this already intriguing book.
“The last leaf falls. But look close and you see. The hidden buds of spring.”
There are serious topics touched upon. Huge spoilers if I choose to continue so read for your own discretion. There is assisted suicide and more importantly with teenagers. it is especially a problem because Sora choose to do this in his room with the help of his friends and drugs. Assisted suicide is unlawful in Japan, but the author chooses to have Sora do this secretly. He says goodbye to his mother and those that he loves dearly. It is a painful scene that sets the wheels spinning in your mind. I think he has the right to do what he wants with his own life at this point. He does not want to live with more and more pain and less ability to control his actions and himself. He wants to leave with dignity which I believe should be his right. Perhaps more explanations and research into the subject would be great. More insight included within the novel would open great doors for teenagers who the book is targeted towards.
Overall, a novel that deals with serious issues, but follows a realistic and interesting story line. I’ve never read anything like this before, but I loved the setting in Japan and the culture I got to get a glimpse into. The family love and the friendships were strong and undeniably real. I recommend it for sure. Anyone can read it and find an enjoyable part. Sora’s tragic story is magical and beautiful and I hope you’ll find these parts within the branded “sad” story.
4.5/5 Cups of Tea
I recommend a Japanese Shincha Gyokuro tea. A classic and a must to take as a companion to The Last Leaves Falling. A refreshing taste and perfect for summer! 🙂