The Last Leaves Falling by Fox (formerly Sarah) Benwell is a story about a teenage boy whom is diagnosed with a terminal illness; the book follows him through the final parts of his life & shows how important friendship & the love of a mother can be. This book is sad, but not quite as sad as I expected it to be, as Sora’s friends & family make the end of his life as happy as they can. This review is going to be a little different than my usual reviews, because it’s going to be more about how I related to the main character, rather than how good the book was (it was very good though).
This book contains discussion of medical suffering & suicide.
The Last Leaves Falling is about a teenage boy called Sora, whom has been diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Motor Neuron Disease (MND). ALS/MND is an illness in which the neurons controlling muscle movement start to die off – the death of these neurons results in the body slowly shutting down, usually ending with a person being unable to control their body or do anything for themselves. Sora finds comfort during the last few months of his life by using online chatrooms, forums where the people he speaks to do not know about his disability, & so treat him like a regular, healthy teenage boy. Eventually though, Sora meets up with two people from this chatroom & they end up helping him to live the rest of his days out in a fun & dignified way. This book is in equal parts about death & true friendship, & it’s a very emotional read.
Despite my list of illnesses not being terminal, they are chronic & permanent, so this meant that I related to Sora quite a lot during this read. At the very start of the book we read about how Sora’s legs are getting weaker, & how difficult he finds it to do simple, everyday things because of this… some of you will know that I had to learn to walk again in 2013, & reading about Sora’s difficulties & frustrations was incredibly emotional for me because I got it. I got the heartache & stress that Sora was experiencing whilst trying to make his weak legs work, & I also understood the guilt he felt for putting his mum through his illness. I understood how much it crushed him when he couldn’t go to school & I understood how horrible it was to witness the people he knew before he got sick, feeling awkward & uncomfortable around him. I also understood the depressive & suicidal thoughts that Sora experienced, & the pure desperation to be normal again.
Later in the book Sora starts to experience weakness in his arms & hands, something else that I have personally experienced & I felt so much frustration whilst reading the scenes where Sora struggled to type or hold a book, because yet again, I got it. I don’t read many books where I am able to relate to a character’s physical struggles, so reading this book was a very strange experience for me… despite the strangeness though, it was also a comforting read for me, because it was a reminder than I am not alone in these experiences & struggles.
The friends that Sora ends up making through the chatroom end up being incredibly supportive & caring, something that I never experienced whilst being really sick, & it really made me smile to know that some people do get that kind of support during their most difficult periods. The friendship aspect of this book was very beautiful, but it was also refreshingly modern, with the use of the internet & mobile phones! The book was also very modern because it looked at the pressure than Japanese teenagers are under to get good grades in school, & it also discussed the high levels of suicide among teenagers in recent generations. As I’ve already said, this book wasn’t necessarily a happy read, but it was a good one & it was one that I’m glad I picked up.
You can find out more about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Motor Neuron Disease using the links below: