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Yumoto, Kazumi.
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, c1992
IL 5-8, RL 4.2
ISBN: 0374424616
Click on the book to read Amazon reviews
The Friends, by Kazumi Yumoto is an award-winning coming-of-age story originally written in Japenese and later translated into English by Cathy Hirano. It is an excellent representation of children's literature that highlights the modern Japanese school culture while also adding some personal perspective of a WWII Japanese soldier.

The story tells of three 12 year old boys and their unlikely friendship with an old man who is near the end of his life.  The Friends have fear and curiosity of death and the after-life which bring them into the life of the old man. In addition to this, each friend has his own personal struggles that are resolved with the help and understanding of each other and their new friend.

"Maybe dying is pretty simple, after all.  Don't you think?" Kawabe asks me.  . . "I guess dying isn't so strange.  After all, everyone dies," I say, and Kawabe nods in agreement.  "But I am still afraid to die, aren't you?" "Yeah.That's weird.  If everyone dies, anyway, why is death so scary?  I guess we won't know until we die." "You know" Yamashita says slowly, "I can't make flounder into sashimi yet.  And I don't want to die until I know how.  If I think about dying before I've learned, I feel afraid.  But I don't know whether I will be content to die even once I have learned. Will I ever master something so well that I feel free to die?  Even if I don't master it completely, I want to find something like that.  Because if I don't, then why am I alive" (p.92-93)

This book would be excellent to share with upper elementary and middle schools students who may be asking themselves many of the same questions that the "Friend" ask.  The subject matter is handled directly but reverently, and the historical and cultural perspective is a definite plus.  (Marsi Kearney,, college student)

SUBJECTS:     Friendship Fiction.
                        Death Fiction.
                        Coming-of­age Fiction

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