I am reviewing this book as part of the Japanese YA Novel Week I am co-hosting with Nina at Death Books and Tea.
If you would like more information about the week, head over here.
Summary from Amazon:
Kiyama and his friends Kawabe and Yamashita become fascinated and curious about death when Yamashita's grandmother dies. They wonder what a dead body looks like and if the dead person becomes a ghost. They hope to see death firsthand by spying on an old man who looks like he will die soon. But while they watch the old man, he watches them. Soon their fascination for each other turns into a friendship that will change their lives forever.
This is one of the most beautiful stories I ever read about friendship.
Kiyama, Kawabe and Yamashita are three young friends who spend their time between school, cram school and sports. Neither has the best of situations at home or is the most popular at school, but they rely on each other. When Yamashita's grandmother passes away, the boys voice their concerns, beliefs and questions about death. It turns out that they are all fascinated by it, not in a morbid way, but they are just afraid of the unknown.
Kawabe's mother talks about an old neighbour who is on the verge of death, and the boys decide to see for themselves what death is about and start spying on the old man. When the old man realises what the boys are doing, an interesting friendship develops.
I haven't read many YA books which talk about death the way this one does. The boys are young and innocent and they have genuine concerns about death. They don't really know what it's like to grow old and they certainly don't know what happens when a person dies.
In a theme linked to death, the book also mentions old age and by observing the old man, the boys understand better what happens when a person grows old. The friendship they have with the old man is so adorable and shows just how much people can benefit from inter-generational contacts. The story also stresses the point how people can change throughout their lives and how one day's action doesn't mold your personality forever. There really is a before and an after in the boys' personality and it really is quite interesting to see this develop in a 100 pages or so.
The book is also about friendship and there really isn't anything like your childhood friends who know you for who your are, flaws included, and who accept you without ever judging you. The three boys don't have the perfect family or school life but they have each other and that's what matters. Their friendship progresses as the story goes and you know that what happens during that summer when they are spying on the old man will stay with them forever.
This is a very short book and unlike The Girl Who Leapt Through Time where I would have wanted more, I felt that the length was just right in this one. All the aspects of the story are balanced and there is enough character description and depth to the story that I didn't feel the story needed anything more.
The writing is also very subtle and because the story is seen through Kiyama's eyes, it is also very believable. There are some very emotional moments in the book and I have been very touched by the story (read = I cried my heart out).
This is a truly beautiful book and I just want to share it with as many people as I can (really, that's how much I loved it!). It is brilliant for both boys and girls, for middle grade and older readers, and it is also a brilliant book to discuss (may it be the friendship, solidarity, death and the relations between younger and older generations). Trust me on this one, read it!