Title: The Last Leaves Falling
Author: Sarah Benwell
Publication date: January 29th 2015
Buy at: BookDepository
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.
It’s well known among my friends that I don’t shed a tear easily. I may feel sad, but to actually cry, well, that requires a colossal amount of pain. To this day, fewer than five books have made me weep. The Last Leaves Falling got me curled up in bed, nearly sobbing myself to sleep. I had a feeling that might be the case early on in the book, but, since I wasn’t reading it all in one go, I was fairly certain I wouldn’t cry. Clearly, I was very wrong.
What I also did not expect was the feeling at the end of it. The desire to get out of bed, even though it was three in the morning, to tell all my loved ones what they mean to me, and most of all, to live. Have no doubts. This is one very powerful book.
The Last Leaves Falling tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager with ALS (if those letters remind you of the Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s because they’re connected), as he looks for comfort on the internet and in the words of dying samurai. It deals with the stigma towards the ill: the badly conceived sentences, the looks of pity and shame, the idea that they serve the purpose of reminding able bodied people of how lucky they are, among others. It tells us what it’s like for your body to fail you more and more every day as if you weren’t the person commanding it. It shows how different it is to face death alone and with friends who care; and how, despite everything, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
This book is beautiful for more than Sora’s reflections and struggles. Just as heartbreaking are his interactions with his loving mother, who has to work and take care of her single child on her own, or with his grandparents who remind Sora how to laugh, or with his friends who give Sora space to say the unsaid and a taste of freedom.
The chapters are fairly short, quick to read, and honest about the degeneration of Sora’s body. There’s no embellishment of anything (except of the gorgeous language that fits the story like a glove). It only makes it a more painful, yet truthful read (and it really had to be to make me sob like a newborn baby).
This is one book I’m very happy to recommend to absolutely everyone. Please, read it. Read it if you’re interested in Japanese culture. Read it if you like sad but hopeful stories. Read it if you always wanted to read more stories about online friendships. Read it if you’re all up for diversifying your books. Read it if you feel like trying a different book. Whatever your reason, just read it. Trust me.
The book in a quote
“The world is difficult to catch if you cannot run after it.”