The Last Leaves Falling is a beautiful, sad and honest novel about Sora, a 15 year old Japanese boy who is diagnosed with ALS. Sora’s chained to his wheelchair. He’s unable to attend school and unable to become the university lecturer he’d always dreamed of becoming. He’s not able to become anything, really. His only company is his mother, doctors and the online chatroom he’s considering signing up with. He likes to read, but in time he won’t even be able to do that, let alone dress himself, talk or move at all.
But don’t let these depressing elements of this story stop you from reading it. Any novel where the main character is suffering from an incurable disease and facing a very near and inevitable death is bound to be incredibly sad, right? It’s kind of expected. And yeah, I knew this book would make me sad before I started reading it. And it definitely did. It even made me quite teary to the point I was on the verge of crying buckets. (In case you’re wondering, this is not quite All The Bright Places, but it’s definitely on the spectrum). The slow deterioration of Sora’s body and his loss of ability to do the most simple of things we all often take for granted was hard to read. Definitely depressing, that goes without saying.
A large part of this novel examines and gives insight into thoughts and ideas surrounding suicide and also mass suicide. This is shown via the chatroom site that Sora reads, where anonymous people are basically shoving suicide ads in users faces. It’s pretty horrific, but it’s an important subject so I found Benwell’s way of discussing it fascinating, challenging and extremely controversial. But I can’t say much more on that. You have to read the book to know what I’m really talking about here.
There were parts of this novel that also had me smiling and laughing. The two friends Sora makes in the online chat room and his developing friendship with them is a great part of the story. His friends give him hope and the interactions they had and what they learnt from each other was beautiful to read. Just generally Sora and his friends are also really interesting, strong characters and I was able to easily engage with each of them. In particular I connected with Sora, as a large part of the book is his internal thoughts. You really get a deep insight into the mind of a character who’s dying. Which isn’t always depressing because quite often you get insight into how completely important it is to remember that you are living. But really, Sora’s relationship with his friends (and also with his mother) are the heart of the story.
Benwell is a beautiful writer, which of course is another element of the novel that really peaked my interest. There were many sentences I thought were so beautifully written and fascinating. The ideas and images she uncovered through her writing style were wonderful. Benwell’s inclusion of the Samurai wisdom verses and quotes throughout was a lovely touch. The way they influenced the plot and Sora’s character was very clever.
The Last Leaves Falling is a brave, honest and hopeful novel about death, life and friendship. It brings up some really important issues and questions a person’s right to choosing when and how they die. I found it a beautiful novel to read and certainly one that deserves a lot of discussion and thought in turn for the subject matter involved.
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