Book Review: The Last Leave Falling (Sarah Benwell)
*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 29th January 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):
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 started this book last night when I realised it was about to be archived on NetGalley. I got half way through before bed then finished it off on the bus to and from work. I wouldn’t recommend such public reading as it forced me close to tears, often.
This isn’t the kind of book I’d usually pick out – I’m not a fan of the ‘dying teenager’ books that there have been a flux of lately – but I’m glad I read it. Everyone should read it.
I found Sora a very realistic protagonist with what felt like an accurate reaction to his illness (I say felt like only because I don’t want to put myself in those shoes, as someone who hasn’t been through that). In the same way that John Green shied away from those brave smiling cancer kids, Sora’s emotions felt raw and real, not at peace with the fact that his time was being cut short, not constantly putting on a brave face. That’s not to say he wasn’t brave. There’s plenty of bravery in this book as he makes new friends and tries to protect his mother from his inevitable decline.
I found it interesting to read about disability and death in general, as I’ve not read a lot that covers this (disabilities seem to be under represented a lot in YA fiction) but it was made more interesting to read this from another culture. Sora is constantly comparing himself to the great samurai and is mournful that his death cannot be dignified and his own.
His friend’s reactions towards the end were very thought provoking. Even though I saw Sora’s struggle from his own perspective throughout the book, I felt I agreed when Kaito talked about living life to the full and enjoying your time, especially when life has dealt those grim cards to Sora. But even as I agreed with him I knew I had no right to, just as he couldn’t justify that opinion: it’s all very well saying grand words like that but death is ugly and undignified and nothing can change that.
Overall a very emotional read. I love a book about death that doesn’t feel like its preaching at you to live your life, even though that’s what this book made me want to do. It’s sensitive and unflinching and a definite must-read.