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The Last Leaves Falling

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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.

359 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2015

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About the author

Fox Benwell

6 books156 followers
Fox Benwell is a queer, trans, disabled (critically acclaimed) YA writer, an adventurer and wannabe-knight. He holds degrees in international education and writing for young people, and is working on a PhD on disability representation. He has as much of a thing for story structure as for the underdog, and is, in essence, a nerd.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 480 reviews
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
September 18, 2018
I was really loving the first portion of the book, but things quickly turned for the worse towards the end. I honestly have no idea how to feel about this book. I think I need to read some other reviews to figure out if anyone else had a bit of a unsettling feeling about the direction this plot went in. I really thought that I would love this and now I'm here feeling unsure.
Profile Image for Ashley Cruzen.
342 reviews539 followers
December 12, 2015
First off, I am hugely supportive of the Death with Dignity Act. I was glad to see it mentioned in this book and I hope this book can bring some awareness to younger people who may not be familiar with it.
That being said, there was just something about this book that didn't sit entirely well with me.

We follow 17 year old Sora through his daily struggles with ALS, navigating the difficulties of staying social while being relatively isolated from your peers, and coming to terms with the fact that death is a huge unknown.

I like that we are getting some serious and hard topics like this in YA, but I'm just not sure the approach was right. I don't know. I really still haven't figured out my feelings about this yet, so I'm going to just give it a 3 and maybe revisit this review in the future.
Profile Image for Luna's Little Library.
1,386 reviews191 followers
October 24, 2015
If you don't read this book you're missing out on something truly special. Beautiful. ♥

*** EDIT **
The I-love-this-book-so-much-there-aren’t-the-words-review:
Very occasionally I read a book that I so utterly and completely fall in love with that when it comes to writing my review all I have is a long list of words such as; beautiful, stunning, magnificent, breath-taking, amazing, fantastic, marvellous and perfect. This is one of those books.

The second thing I did after finishing The Last Leaves Falling (first being to hug various stuffed animals, get through half a box of tissues and comfort myself with some medicinal chocolate) was to message my friend to tell her about the emotional turmoil I was in.

Let me repeat: I utterly and completely love this book but it’s a powerful and heart-breaking read. Your heart does get put back together again because there is hope as much as there is everything else in Sarah Benwell debut but you won’t forget Sora’s story in a hurry and that’s a good thing.

I loved Sora. The future he faces doesn’t provide him with much to look forward to. Sora is honest about that, at the same time though he has this inner strength.

The relationship between Sora and his mother was one of my favourite things about this book. I adored Sora’s friends but it was the moments with his mother that really stuck with me. There are a few other key scenes but I don’t want take away from your reading experience… my heart hurts when I think about them. So so good.

I know this is a rather gushy review of The Last Leaves Falling and I don’t do them very often but this book is special. Read it.
Profile Image for Marjolein (UrlPhantomhive).
2,389 reviews51 followers
April 12, 2015
Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

If you hadn't heard about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) before last summer, you'll probably know it now thanks to all the attention that went into the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was of course only a matter of time before there would be books about it as well. And I thoroughly believe it's a good thing that awareness is created for this terrible disease (as there should be awareness for many more terrible diseases).

I really liked the setting, in Japan. It's always nice to read about a different culture. I was not such a big fan of the chats that were included into the book, and I felt that the friendship that followed was rushed, especially in the beginning. Come to think about it, the whole book felt rushed. It wasn't a particularly long book, so I would have liked to perhaps see it a bit longer so that the events all felt better in place.

Although I thought it was an interesting story, I never truly connected with Sora or his friends. It didn't have the emotional wow-factor that I thought it would have. Perhaps my expectations were a bit too high...

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Kirsty .
3,476 reviews328 followers
January 27, 2015
This is a really beautiful book.

I love the diversity of it in two ways. Firstly it gives the reader insight into the typical life of someone outside of the UK. The main character is Japanese and just seeing those little differences in his daily life is much needed to give insight into someone living in a completely different part of the world

The main character is suffering from ALS which is getting progressively worse and seeing the impact that has on his life and mental state is incredibly harrowing and emotional throughout. It really makes you think about what you value in your life and how much you take for granted.

What I also loved about this book was the friendship that develops with Sora and two friends he meets online. That normal interaction gives him a real lifeline in a really dark period in his life and really shows you the difference friendship can make.

All in all a beautiful and emotional read
Profile Image for mytaakeonit.
218 reviews39 followers
May 2, 2017
I honestly didn't think I would like this book, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me. It's a tale of friendship, life, loss, and the power of choice. It is about a touchy subject....death...but it's an important story.
Profile Image for Libriar.
1,942 reviews
September 15, 2015
2.5 stars. Not quite sure what the author was trying to do with this book. I was hoping for an explanation at the end of the book that stated her connection to ALS and to Japan so I could then say "Oh, I get why she wrote this." But there was no explanation. So why was the book set in Japan? Why did she choose to portray a 17-year-old with ALS instead of someone older (perhaps as a parent of a teen to keep it a YA book)? And who exactly is the audience for this book? The theme is for older teens but the setting, plot, etc. is for younger teens. Overall I was disappointed. The devastation of ALS could have been told in a much better way than what this book did.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,304 reviews282 followers
September 22, 2015
The neurodegenerative disease ALS got plenty of awareness-raising last year what with the Icebucket Challenge -- and its rather obvious appeal to social media users. I wish that at least some of those teenagers who posted pictures of themselves on Facebook would read this sensitive, poignant book about what it means to get a diagnosis of a disease like ALS. As the book begins, 17 year-old Abe Sora has experienced enough deterioration that he has had to leave school. Feeling isolated and alone, Abe turns to internet chat rooms -- not only for "conversation", but also as a chance to feel anonymous (ie, as someone other than the "boy who is dying"). Surprisingly, Abe meets two virtual friends who eventually become actual friends -- and really help him deal with what is happening to him. Mai and Kaito have their own problems, and the really emotionally satisfying bit is the way that Abe is able to help them as well. The friendship feels truly reciprocated -- and if that is too idealised, then at least it gives the book that aspect of being instructive in a really positive way. Friendship should work this way. Not that the book sugar-coats Abe's situation. One of the things that the book does so well is show how pain and illness and obvious disability can become such a barrier to communication. The relationship Abe has with his mother seems particularly well-drawn. Despite their obvious closeness -- Abe is an only child and his father is absent -- he wants to protect his mother from much he is hurting, both physically and emotionally. She, too, has difficulty facing anything but Abe's immediate physical needs. Like many mothers, she feeds Abe as a way of showing love -- and the descriptions of Japanese dishes (the book is set in Kyoto, Japan) give a really appealing sensual texture to the book. I didn't much like the (mostly banal) online conversations, but they mostly feature at the beginning of the book -- and they were an important feature of the plot. Overall, the book is an easy read -- at least in terms of the simple, mostly elegant writing style. Of course, reading about death isn't easy . . . but the author gives her main character so much dignity. He is brave, but not impossibly so.
Profile Image for Lucy Powrie.
Author 5 books5,583 followers
February 23, 2015
I feel like The Last Leaves Falling is a friend I’ve watched grow up. I’m so incredibly excited for Sarah and the release of it because I loved it and I know so many of you will too!

The Last Leaves Falling tells the story of Sora, a boy with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that means he is going to die. The novel is so much more than that though – it’s a tale of friendship and discovery, as well as acceptance.

Whilst I loved The Last Leaves Falling, I found some scenes very painful for me to read because of personal experience. It did bring back some hard memories, but something I think people will be able to relate to is the experience of death and illness that everyone has to go through in their lifetime.

My favourite thing when reading Benwell’s debut novel was the major involvement of Internet culture, which, surprisingly, isn’t something I see a lot of in YA fiction, despite how huge the Internet is in our daily lives.

Something I noticed throughout reading was that this book made me realise exactly what is important to me. In places, it’s deeply philosophical and I began to understand what should be valued.

I enjoyed The Last Leaves Falling a lot and can’t wait to see what Benwell writes next.
Profile Image for Manon.
294 reviews103 followers
January 4, 2015
More reviews on my blog, Exploring Pages.
"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..."
-- Sarah Branwell, The Last Leaves Falling

Thank you Definitions (Youg Adult) for providing me with an advanced reading copy for review.

Actual rating: 2.5 stars

The Last Leaves Falling is a very unique novel. It stands out and because of that, caught my eye almost immediately. Reading a story about the life of a seventeen-year-old dealing with the Lou Gehrig's disease, is something special I've wanted to read ever since all the attention started coming up. So as original as this novel might be, it was never really my cup of tea.

First of all, there wasn't much connection or bonding between me and the main character, Sora. Or should I say, none at all. His life was devastating and heart-breaking, but it never touched me or made me pity him. The only characters I really felt with were his friends. I loved their aspirations, they chasing their dreams although they also have struggles of their own. They were much more interesting to getting to know than the protagonist himself, who was in my opinion just a really boring character. I will never understand how it's like to live with a disease like that, so I also will never be able to understand his motivations, his actions or his words. But for all I know, he wasn't a very interesting character to me.

The Last Leaves Falling book dealt with themes much too serious and much too dark for my liking. Do notice I like, even love, some darkness in a book every now and then. I love how authors can choose such difficult and serious subjects to focus their book on and do it right. I'm not saying this isn't the case here, because I know sure Branwell didn't write this book on a day. There are so many things that prove her research was done very well and she took a lot of time in making sure the ALS wasn't sugarcoated in her work. But despite it involving another disease and not something like cancer, it felt a lot of times like just another cancer story. Don't hate me for this, yet I really thing it did. I didn't have the feeling of reading something really different and outstanding, which resulted in reading several pages with not much interest.

The lack of connection with Sora as a character had much influence on the story itself. It wasn't as calamitous it first appeared to be. I also don't know why or how, but I thought it was straight-out depressing at times. There is a certain hidden theme in this book which I didn't expect to encounter, and was really surprised to see how much impact it had in the end. People who have read it will understand me when I speak of a scene in the book that was too much for me. As oversensitive as I already am, it went over the edge. I suddenly had a great dilemma whether to continue reading, because at that point I had no intention anymore to. I'm glad I did, simply because the ending has to be mu highlight of the entire novel. It was perfect. I didn't expect it at all to end in that way, but my feelings were all over the place.

All in all, my feelings about The Last Leaves Falling are very mixed. I'm still rather confused on what my exact opinion is, if I actually enjoyed it or not. There were so many disappointing aspects but also others I really liked. If you however, enjoy the premise of a book that deals with very harsh themes and if you're not a very sensitive person, I really think this book will turn you into a sobbing mess.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,089 reviews
August 4, 2015
This was such a sad book dealing with the devastating disease ALS. Sora was only seventeen years old when he gets this diagnosis that changes his life forever. With each day that goes by Sora loses more control over his body. Feeling sad all the time and with no friends to turn to, Sora joins a chat room in hopes of finding people that he can connect to.

I loved this book and all the characters. Sora was a strong, brave character. Despite the overwhelming emotions Sora deals with he handles things well given his diagnosis and the progression of his symptoms. Kaito and Mai were good friends for him. They were there for him when he needed to talk and there were there to offer distractions when he needed to get his mind off his disease.

The ending was abrupt but necessary. I thought it worked very well for the story. Things don't always end neatly and all tied up. The ending also makes you question how much would you be willing to go through when you are suffering through a terminal illness.
Profile Image for Marina.
2,030 reviews317 followers
July 13, 2016
** Books 178 - 2016 **

2,8 of 5 stars!

Buddy Read with Mia Prasetya,Alvina Vanilla, and Ayu Yudha

Seriously, i am overhelming into this gorgeous books cover when the first time i saw it. When my goodreads friends wanna have buddy read okay i can't wait for reading this pieces. one thing that i uncertain with is when i saw an short quotes "...another The Fault is Our Stars..". I have a bad omen but i don't wanna judging first.

This is a story about a young man named Sora Abe that being diagnosed as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and slowly but sure he will have health degredation and limited movement for walking, breathing and eating. When he cannot come to school anymore, he start spend his day in his room and looking a new friends in cyber world. His life is slowly changing with the appearance his new friends, Mai and Kaito.

After i finished read this books. Okay this books is not really bad but there are some points that i can't give this pieces into 3 stars :

1. Untouching diseases story is
I have read many young adult books that focusing in health diseases before but seriously this books is doesn't left any impression for me. When i read a few chapter i thought wow this will be another Aya Kitou's story from 1 litre of Tears. You can read her true story in Last Letter and i watched the dorama too. I already set high expectation but i can't really feel what Sora's through is since his fearness and sorrow really bland for me.

2. Japan Setting
I already imagine what will be this story that located in Japan. However the setting explanation is really meh. I can't feel any detail description for the street or the surroundings is. I just know suddenly they live in Tokyo and wanna meet his grandparents that lived in Kyoto. That's it. Where is the detail setting description is? The writer not explore the setting very well. She should do research first when she wanna writes the books that takes japan as settings. You should read 3 by Alicia Lidwina. Even she is indonesian writer she can describes the Japan setting very well. She can make the reader feels look like in Japan and through into the characters' mind.

3. Dangerous Cyber World
I am kinda annoyed when Sora is surfing to the cyber world join into forum chat. I know it is normal and there is nothing wrong. But it is obviously wrong when you just know them not a whole weeks and invite the stranger that we never meet before to have dinner in your house? Are you sure? If i put myself into his shoes, i will not dare invite an stranger into my house for sake dinner invitation? Are you really know them very well before? Do you know there is many cyber crimes that really happen before. >__<

Profile Image for Teresa.
197 reviews14 followers
January 24, 2015
It's well known among my friends that I don't shed a tear easily. I may feel sad, but to actually cry, well, that requires a colossal amount of pain. To this day, fewer than five books have made me weep. The Last Leaves Falling got me curled up in bed, nearly sobbing myself to sleep. I had a feeling that might be the case early on in the book, but, since I wasn't reading it all in one go, I was fairly certain I wouldn't cry. Clearly, I was very wrong.

What I also did not expect was the feeling at the end of it. The desire to get out of bed, even though it was three in the morning, to tell all my loved ones what they mean to me, and most of all, to live. Have no doubts. This is one very powerful book.

The Last Leaves Falling tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager with ALS (if those letters remind you of the Ice Bucket Challenge, it's because they're connected), as he looks for comfort on the internet and in the words of dying samurai. It deals with the stigma towards the ill: the badly conceived sentences, the looks of pity and shame, the idea that they serve the purpose of reminding able bodied people of how lucky they are, among others. It tells us what it's like for your body to fail you more and more every day as if you weren't the person commanding it. It shows how different it is to face death alone and with friends who care; and how, despite everything, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

read more


(back in December 2014)

Even though I’ve never done a gif review before, I just felt like I had to for The Last Leaves Falling. I loved this book too much not to give you a look into what I thought of it asap. I’ll publish a full review closer to the publishing date, but as of now, I’ll share this.

At the beginning


When Sora finds friends


When Sora makes the decision


At the end


read more
Profile Image for lizeindisney.
283 reviews26 followers
March 18, 2015
link to review on my blog

Sora has ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - and he will die. At first, I didn't think I'd be able to finish the book knowing that, but I don't regret it at all. I got very attached to him and his story, despite knowing I would have my heartbroken somewhere along the line. I loved his family, especially his grandparents, Ojiisan and Bah-Ba. The love he is surrounded by as he deteriorates is overwhelming - and the friends he meets of the chatroom KyoToTeenz, Kaito and Mai, are wonderful people. For someone who has always been judged for his condition, he's finally met someone - two of them, in fact - who won't.

There is a lot of hatred directed at the teenagers in Japan, through the medium of anonymous emails trying to induct them into a mass suicide pact. But in all of this hatred, there is so much love. The love Sora family have for him, that he has for them, as well as the love of Kaito and Mai. Everyone has dreams, and not everyone follows them, but they should, because some people - like Sora - just can't.

I loved this book, it was thoroughly beautiful. It really made me take a good look at my life and how happy and lucky I am. I can't wait to read what Sarah writes next.
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
July 7, 2016
Four Stars for this well written, poignant tale of Abe Sora, a seventeen year old young man who is dying from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also know as Lou Gehrig's disease. Intelligent, loved by his family, he seeks answers to life's questions, primarily, he longs to know what will happen when he dies. Is there another life? Does he have the right to choose when this one should end?

Throughout his journey, rarely, if ever, does he sink to the depths of why me, why not someone else. Rather, he longs for friends, which he does eventually find through an internet chat room. And, he longs for relief from the fact that each new day brings less muscle coordination.

The author weaves a beautiful tapestry of the friendship of Abe and his two friends who gladly learn to see the world through his eyes. Each day is a blessing, and he and his friends try as best as possible to make each journey special.

The setting is Japan, and I very much liked the way in which the culture was portrayed throughout the story. With a strong bond of his mother and her parents, Abe walks a fine line between wanting them to answer some of his questions, yet not wanting to burden them.

With this wonderful book as the author's debut, I anxiously await another.
Profile Image for Laurie.
971 reviews39 followers
February 18, 2016
Abe Sora is seventeen years old, and he’s got an older person’s degenerative and fatal disease: ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s progressing extremely fast. His school has been unwilling to allow him to continue since he’s now using a wheelchair, so he stays home, surfing the web, with his mother for company in the evenings. That is the extent of his life.

Then he meets some kids in a teen chat room, and friendship blossoms. Their first physical meeting is awkward, but the relationships evolve, as does his relationship with his mother. He gets to be a teenager again, doing things with friends as equals.

The joy he finds is always edged with sorrow because of his limited time on this earth, but he finds himself taking his life into his own hands instead of being told what to do or being limited by his condition. He blossoms, but the story is piercingly sad. It’s a coming of age story, but a coming of age that you know is going to end soon. Beautifully written; my heart ached for Abe.
Profile Image for Jess.
77 reviews18 followers
August 11, 2015
This book is something so different, so amazing, I feel like everyone should read it. It definitely messed with my emotions. I'm smiling, I'm crying, I'm laughing, and those emotions were repeated throughout the entirety of the novel. At first, I wasn't to keen on the main character. After I read more of the book, I grew more attached to him. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Profile Image for monica ♪.
506 reviews72 followers
January 1, 2019
I bought this book since few years ago but it was just sitting on my bookshelf.
I've been picked this up and put it down all over again few times until I finally managed to finish this.

I love Japan. Words can't describe how much I love this country and its cultures. So when I read the synopsis of this book, I knew I had to pick this book up.
I'm always curious about the story that set in Japan (with Japanese cultures in it) that's written by a non-Japanese author.
But too bad, although the story set in Japan and characters with Japanese name, I think the author didn't really picture the habit and culture of native Japanese people.

The concept of the story is good actually. But I feel like it's lack of something that makes this book pretty boring. That's why I kept putting it down for several times. I've started reading this book around October/November 2018, but I kept on putting it down because this was just bored me to death. I even almost DNF-ed it.
Especially the chatroom conversation part. I feel like there's no correlation between the convo and the story line. It's just a waste of my time reading them *eyerolls*

It's like, there's a good gift but wrapped in a dull package that makes it looks really boring. That's how I feel about this book.
What a shame.

This book is pretty much Me Before You and The Fault in our Stars combined.
I think the point of the story is just the few last chapters. I feel like the rest are just pointless. I didn't even know where the story was going at first. And I hate the ending.
This book is just so boring. Sorry not sorry.

I was really, really looking forward to reading this book back then but too bad it's really disappointing.
Profile Image for Rich in Color.
524 reviews87 followers
July 24, 2015
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

After reading the summary, I wondered if this was one of those crying books. There are many people who seek out the books that require tissues, but I am not one of them. Puffy eyes and a stuffy nose after reading sessions is not the result I am usually seeking. The unique plot seemed worth the risk though.

Before his illness, Sora enjoyed playing baseball and dreamed of being a professor. After his diagnosis though, he doesn’t know who he is and how to be himself. He doesn’t really have peers in his life once he stops going to school, so he turns to chat rooms. The internet makes it so much easier since nobody there sees him as a tragic figure. He can be more than his illness. He can be anyone.

Online he finds two people to interact with that quickly become his friends. Kaito and Mai joke with him and share the ups and downs of their days. They bring many of the lighter moments of the novel. He’s able to forget some of his challenges while chatting with them and later hanging out with them in person.

Often he wants to forget about ALS and his impending death, but sometimes he wants to talk about it. His family avoids or silences his questions about death. But Sora is wrestling with what happens when you die. He begins to consider how he wants to live his last days.

The Last Leaves Falling brings readers to a place that may be uncomfortable. In many societies death is a topic to avoid. It’s not something we discuss in depth on a daily basis. Often, if a loved one is facing death, we still focus on the positives as if by talking about it we are being disloyal. As if by saying the word we are condemning them to death ourselves. We don’t want to make it seem like there is no hope for recovery even if that is truly the case. This is where Sora finds frustration. He knows death is the only possible outcome so he wants to prepare, but his mother and grandparents aren’t ready to go there with him.

Sora’s voice rang true to me. He expresses his frustration and confusion about what he is meant to do when his life is being cut short and he seemingly has no choice or control anymore. There is no how-to guide for this. Nobody plans for such a situation. His new friends are one of the ways that he copes. Through helping them with their daily struggles, he finds meaning and begins to see that he still has some say in his own life. He also finds meaning through a book of death poems. Some are beautiful and some are harsh, but the poems help him process his own experience. The authors were samurai facing their last days. They were willing to look death in the eye and speak of it when no one else around him will.

I can’t say whether readers will need a box of tissues, but my eyes did not stay dry. I couldn’t help but think of the song from Rent, “Seasons of Love.” The song asks, “How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?” Sora is looking at his life and his last days wondering what it is that truly matters. He also explores how he can keep his dignity as he comes closer and closer to death and loses more and more control. This is a book that could lead to a lot of thinking. It will stick with me for a long time. It may also finally get my body down to the hospital to fill out my advance directive paperwork. Yes, this book may take you there.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you are a fan of contemporary books and are willing to venture down this path. Benwell bravely brings readers on a journey that we often try to avoid, but it’s one that we will all deal with in some form eventually. I’m glad that I took the chance. I was rewarded with a beautiful story that made me think and feel and aren’t those the best?
Profile Image for Kim.
132 reviews2 followers
December 22, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Avery (ThePagemaster).
599 reviews89 followers
March 16, 2017

What first drew me to this book was that this book centers around ALS(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Quick Lesson: ALS is a nervous system disease that weakens muscles, slowly killing the neurons in your voluntary muscles. In simplest terms, its a slow and painful paralysis of your entire body. The most notable people that Have ALS is Lou Gehrig, the baseball player that was the first, mainstream diagnosis and what the disease is named after and theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking.

If you still don't know, remember those viral videos of people pouring ice, cold water on themselves a couple years ago? They did it for this disease.

Sora(no relation to Kingdom Hearts), like Lou Gehrig, was an aspiring and well-loved baseball player, in school, and was in the middle of a game when the symptoms first hit him--not a spoiler, you learn early on. What I liked about Sora is that he behaved like how someone would typically react if they had such a crippling disease like ALS: Death is upon him; can't play baseball, hang out with friends, or even more remedial things we take for granted like walking; future looks bleak, at best. The only comfort in his life is a book of ancient wisdom from samurai his doctor gave him and an online chatroom site, where he meets two friends, Mai and Kaito.

First off, this book takes place in Kyoto, Japan. Five stars, right there. Plenty of people outside of USA that feel the same ways we do, so YAY Diversity! (Plus, visiting Kyoto, Japan = #lifegoals)

Secondly, this book tackles ableism, which is what it sounds like: discrimination against those with physical disabilities. There are scenes where Sora is just trying to live life a little around his disease and people judge him for simple things like moving to the first in like at a roller coaster. You can't help but go "You got legs! You can walk/eat/bathe/piss/shit by yourself; he can't!" Imagine, not just your mind, but your psyche if that was suddenly taken away from you. It also shows the humility Sora feels for suddenly becoming dependent on his mother, his grandparents, and his friends to help him do all those things for him.

Overall, the book deals with life. And death. How would you live life with something that is slowly killing you, and painfully? Would you want to live? Even Stephen Hawking admits that once he feels like he has no more contributions to our world, he'd consider assisted suicide (trigger warning btw). It's powerful, with light moments of life and friendship and family, and memories.
Profile Image for Amy.
109 reviews
July 17, 2015
The Last Leaves Falling is a striking novel that demands careful consideration of serious issues by its reader. Sora, a Japanese teenager with huge dreams, struggles to find friendship and courage in his struggle with ALS. Unfortunately, there are elements that did not sit well with me, and I constantly found myself questioning what exactly the author was trying to convey to her readers.

Although Benwell’s writing style and simplistic plot are far more suited to readers in their early teens, Sora’s opinions on death, suicide and his struggle against ALS are not entirely appropriate for younger readers. Overall, there is a dark underlying tone of helplessness and tragedy that, instead of challenging its readers, seems to advertise suicide as a courageous and noble death. Teenagers would be safer reading novels with darker content that present a more stable view on life, especially when suicide and self-harm are becoming increasingly prominent among adolescents.

This incompatibility of the storyline, teenage characters and main themes resulted in a confusing and overwhelming story that left me feeling ill at ease. This book is not worth the wasted time or emotional energy it demands.
Profile Image for Trisha.
4,748 reviews167 followers
July 30, 2015
"The last thing I want for you is to wear a dream that doesn't fit."

What a tough book. One that is misleading with the red cover. I like the brown one with birds and a boy so much better. It's a little sad, a little lonely and perfect encompasses Sora's life. At least, in the beginning.

This is the story of Sora, a boy who was diagnosed with an "old man's disease". ALS. It's not something I knew a lot about before reading this. And one that I know a lot more about and it breaks my heart.

This book tackles a lot of things. How alone those who are dying can feel, how isolating it can be. And how the on-line world opened the ability to connect with others when leaving the house may be tough. It also touches childhood disease and what it means for a child, someone so young they really haven't gotten to live, to not be able to look forward to a future.

It's a tough book, one to go into with a big heart and be ready for the world to fade a way a little as you read Sora's story. I truly appreciated Mai and Kaito and the portrayal of his mom. They were all so well done.
Profile Image for Chrissi.
1,194 reviews
January 29, 2015
This is a great book. It seriously blew me away. It’s an emotional, moving read which I’m pretty sure has made its way to my all time favourites list.

I immediately felt compassion for Sora our main character. Sora is diagnoses with ALS at a young age. It’s heart breaking. ALS is an awful disease. Sora’s outlook on the life he had left was, at times, really painful to read. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must feel like for anyone, let alone a teenager. Sarah Benwell’s writing really tore at my heart. I don’t often feel emotional/have real tears when reading a book but this book moved me to tears.

Sora finds friendship online, and the friendships he made were believable and brought joy to his life (and yet more tears to my eyes).

I don’t want to say much about it. It’s one of those stories that I think is best left to be unfolded by its reader. Each reader will take something different from it, but what I know all readers will take from this stunning début is a strong message about valuing the life you have.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,443 reviews
August 2, 2015
I would give this a 3.5. this is a pretty quick read. Sora is 17 years old and was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. this horrible disease is progressing fast. His one way of coping is joining an online chat room with other teenagers. At first they have no idea what Sora is dealing with. but as the disease progresses and it is getting more difficult for him to type online. his friends learn about what Sora is going through. soon they meet in person. ALS is a sinister disease it is one of the neurological diseases that rob a person of mobility soon the person cannot move at all it is very painful. the victim is trapped in their own body yet their mind is intact. Sora is progressively getting worse. he makes a decision of what to do about his life. he wishes for his cyber friends to help him out with the decision has made. this is pretty sad of course. some readers may be supportive of Sora's decision, others may not. hard for me to read because my younger brother who is in his fifties was just given this diagnosis. so this book is a bit personal.
Profile Image for Melissapalmer404.
1,077 reviews29 followers
June 14, 2015
Book #77 Read in 2015
the last leaves falling by Sarah Benwell (YA)

This is an exceptional read. Abe Sora is a teenager diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and he knows that the outcome is death. He feels like a burden on his mother. Sora feels as if he cannot go out because of the pitying stares. He connects with two local teens online via a forum and the trio end up meeting in person. Sora feels as if his life has more meaning but the progression of his disease is quick moving and he wants to live, and die, on his terms.

This book was well-written and powerful. The characters are ones that readers will care about immediately. Filled with Japanese myths and tidbits, the book was elevated to a new level. I believe high school girls and adults would enjoy this book. I received a copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a honest review.

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