Title: The Last Leaves Falling
Author: Sarah Benwell
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 hadn’t heard about this book at all before I won it from Rather Be Reading‘s Dive Into Diversity Challenge, so I was a bit nervous about it since I hadn’t heard anything about it. Despite a bit of a slow start, though, it turned out pretty well and I enjoyed it, especially its strong diversity!
I really didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, so it was definitely a bit slow. I had a little trouble figuring out the setting of the story, for example – the summary said that Sora was Japanese, but I wasn’t quite sure that it took place in Japan, especially since I know so little about it as a setting. I was thrown by how similar yet subtly different it was from an American setting, so that made things a little uneven, but I kept finding myself interested in the story, so the slowness really wasn’t a huge problem for long.
The story is mainly about Sora trying to come to terms with his ALS and making the most of what’s left of his life. As a result, things can get depressing, obviously, but there is more to the story than Sora wallowing.
I’m not sure that I ever really connected with the characters. I was interested in their stories, especially Sora’s and his mother, but in the two or so weeks since I finished the book, I haven’t really thought about them again – their story ended and they left my mind. So, good characters, but not sensational ones that remained with me after the story was over.
There are multiple elements of diversity in this book. First of all, the main character is Asian – he’s a Japanese teenager living in Japan, where he’s lived his whole life. So, you get a foreign setting as well as a POC main character, which is awesome. Most, if not all, of the characters are also Japanese – I wasn’t sure if some of the secondary characters might be white, but it really didn’t matter too much. Then there’s the fact that Sora is disabled – he starts the book in a wheelchair with other problems, and the problems evolve and get worse over the course of the book. So, you get a look into the life of someone who isn’t able-bodied and “normal,” health-wise, which is always a nice change.
The Adult Situation
Sora lives alone with his mother, which means taking care of him rests solely on her. I felt so sorry for his mother – she had the difficulty of taking care of her teenage son like he was an infant again, all the while knowing that ALS had no cure and he was going to die. I wish there had been a little more focus on her, but it was Sora’s story, so that made sense.
I was a little surprised and quite happy with how little romance there was in the book. Sora doesn’t have any romance – he’s not crushing on anyone or relying on somehow to make his life better through romance. There’s a maybe-there-could-be-something-there relationship between his two friends, but romance was so far from Sora’s mind that it just didn’t factor into the story at all.
The ending is sad, but that’s what you expect. I personally was pretty happy with the ending, but I can see how some people might not like it. I thought it was fitting for the characters and such, and there are only so many ways you can end a story about someone with a terminal illness.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I could have gotten more out of it, especially with feeling connected to the story, but it was a decent debut and a great entry into the diverse world of YA books.