Thursday, 29 January 2015

Review: The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Publication Date: 29th January 2015

Huge thanks to Random House UK for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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 should probably be upfront that Sarah is in fact a very dear friend of mine, so whilst I would be gushing about this book already simply on its own merit, the fact that it was written by Sarah just makes it even more awesome.

There is a big surge of diverse young adult fiction hitting the shelves which is a welcome breath of fresh air, and Sora’s tale set in modern Japan is no exception. Add to it that the story itself tackles death, euthanasia and features a disabled protagonist and ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ quickly sets itself apart as something other than your average YA fiction. The truth is it is so much more.

Sora is a tragic and compelling protagonist, at times buoyed up by those around him, sometimes sinking underneath the weight of inevitability, but his narrative had me racing through the book. It is a quiet, raw tale full of the tragic sense of time crashing too fast that comes with such a story, but that in no way hinders the storytelling, or makes it feel like a waste of a book. The prose is so beautifully constructed that you are at once struck with the inevitable end, desperate for any way to alleviate it, but knowing that there is nothing that can be done except to be with Sora through his journey and listen to his story.

The cast of characters that surround him really lift the tale up, injecting it with moments of humour and lightness in amongst the dark. I loved watching Sora slowly begin to let his friends in, to allow them to see him and then to form such a strong support system with them. It truly turned the story from a quiet dirge into something filled with quiet beauty. I loved the additional threads of their own separate stories, each of the three trying to tackle their own problems and drawing strength from the others when it all became too much.

Yes it tackles hard issues, but Sarah handles them with a deft grace that leaves the reader enthralled by the story and utterly wrecked by the emotions within. It is tragic but underpinned with lightness and a feeling that all is not lost, no matter how dark things can get. Quiet hope and dignity suffuse the decisions and actions as Sora comes to terms with himself and the legacy that he will leave.

This book stayed with me well beyond turning the last page. I had questions and thoughts and took quite some time to process through all the issues raised and feelings brought into question by Sora’s tale.

Mixed into all of this, Sarah captures the everyday internet culture that almost all teens are used to these days – something that is strangely left untouched in most books. I loved watching with Sora these teens go about their daily lives, the issues and heartaches that all feel as though they are life and death at the time. It’s something that everyone can relate to, either because they themselves are going through it or they’ve been through it in the past. But at the same time the Japanese culture creeps in and it was so wonderful to see those little touches that marked this book out from so many generic UK and US teen stories. It was like looking in a slightly skewed mirror, the same but so many little differences that make it unique – the mythology and culture and little details that really brought this tale into full technicolour.

This book will destroy you. It will creep into your mind and your heart and your soul and it will slowly pull you apart piece by piece until by the time you reach the last page you are an uncontrollable sobbing wreck. I thought this might just be me, but just look at some of the reviews already springing up about Last Leaves and you’ll see that everyone is having this reaction. It is an incredible book, an important book, and the one book that I will be saying to everyone, if you only read one book this year, let it be this one.

Buy your copy from Amazon or The Book Depository now!

Other great reviews for 'The Last Leaves Falling':


  1. A lovely review and I now have a brand new author to me on my radar, thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Sarah's debut is brilliant, I can't wait to see what she gives us next! Definitely worth checking out the book!

  2. Great review :) - 'Uncontrollable sobbing wreck' is very much an apt description of my reaction to the conclusion!

    1. I think the end got almost everyone who read it. Definitely a book that needs a box of tissues sold with it!