22 Jul 2015

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Release Date: 29th January 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 368
Format: Hardcover | Purchased

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Synopsis (from GR): 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.

My thoughts: It is with a heavy heart that I rate The Last Leaves Falling two stars. I really thought I'd love it, and was really surprised when I didn't. I wanted to, and it had everything there! But this book and I, we didn't click. I wasn't emotionally invested in this book, and it left me wanting more. 

Looking through the reviews and ratings on GoodReads, my opinion is definitely in the minority. There are so many reviews talking about what an emotional, affecting read this book was and I can't help but think did we even read the same book? I just felt so oddly detached from this book - I couldn't connect with Sora, the book was set in Japan but it didn't feel like it, the prose felt weirdly stilted in places.

I think my main problem was that I just wasn't connecting with Sora. His situation was devastating and heart-breaking. Sora has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a.k.a Lou Gehrig's disease and the reason why people keep throwing buckets of ice water on themselves, and given two years to live. I was able to sympathise with him, but I never empathised with him. I was never able to get inside Sora's head and understand his actions or motivations. Despite the little time we spend with her, I found that I empathised with his mother more, although that may be because Sora spent a lot of time wondering what life would be like for her once he is dead. I also found myself more emotionally invested in Sora's friends, Kaito and Mai. It's unfortunate that The Last Leaves Falling is character-driven; perhaps if it were plot-driven I could've found more to love.

One thing that did irritate me were the chat conversations. I didn't find them all that engaging, and some involved characters that you didn't actually meet or have any relevance to the story whatsoever, and although they were used to introduce Kaito and Mai to Sora, I felt that they were rushed, forced and unrealistic. Also, while there were mentions of samurai, Japanese food and superstitions, it didn't really feel like it was set in Japan. If it weren't for the blurb mentioning that Sora is Japanese and the passing references to Japan, I would've guessed it was set in the US or UK.

For me, the highlight was the ending, which sounds awful when I put it like that. Benwell chose the perfect point to end the novel, and I found it to be the most emotionally affecting scene in the book. I'm glad that this book went out on a high. As I said before: my opinion appears to be in the minority. If you're on the fence about reading it, I'd suggest to look into a few reviews, but really this seems to be a book you need to read for yourself.


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