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Review of The Last Leaves Falling

benwell_last leaves fallingstar2 The Last Leaves Falling
by Sarah Benwell
High School   Simon   360 pp.
5/15   978-1-4814-3065-4   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-3067-8   $10.99

Sora, only seventeen, has ALS — “an old man’s 
disease” — and knows he’s going to die in just a few years. First, however, he’ll become a vegetable, dependent on his single mom to do everything for him. When his therapist gives him a book of samurai death poems, saying the samurai knew that “what matters is not how much time you have, but how you use it,” Sora is doubtful. But he soon ends up using his time exceedingly well, making two friends online (where no one can see his wheelchair), meeting them in person (awkward at first, but only briefly), then becoming inseparable pals. His friends’ troubles (artist Mai is being forcefully steered toward law school; Kaito loves computer games and little else), rather than appearing petty in comparison to his own, seem eminently surmountable, and the three help one another along. About a group that grants wishes to the terminally ill, Sora scornfully thinks, “Wish4Life? Really? It is as if they’re saying, ‘You are going to die. The best you can do is wish for life.’” But he realizes that he does have a dying wish — to die before he becomes helpless. The only problem is that he’s lost the ability to lift pills to his mouth; will his friends agree to help? Benwell’s story is remarkably unsentimental, and her setting — contemporary urban Japan — adds a unique appeal but also allows her to make good use of the samurai history of honorable death. And the haiku Sora reads, and writes, are a perfect symbol for his life: brief in length but full of strength and subtlety.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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