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THE FRIENDS by Kazumi Yumoto


by Kazumi Yumoto & translated by Cathy Hirano

Age Range: 10 - 13

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-32460-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 In this graceful first novel, the funeral of one boy's grandmother excites a curiosity about death in three Japanese schoolboys: fatherless Kawabe, jiggling with nervous energy; pudgy, soft-hearted Yamashita; and the narrator, Kiyama. The boys are hard-pressed by unhappy parents (Kiyama's mother drinks; Kawabe's is unmarried), exams, and cram school (``this summer will determine academic victory or defeat''). Like ``secret agents,'' they begin spying on an unkempt old man, thinking he will ``probably drop dead soon.'' Instead, he shapes up under their scrutiny, and they are drawn into his life, even getting him to tell of his participation in a wartime massacre. In the course of the summer, Yamashita almost drowns; Kiyama gets into the ``first big fight'' of his life; and the old man quietly passes away, leaving them ``a friend in the next world.'' This is an offbeat and unsentimental coming-of-age story--a Japanese Stand By Me--about friends fascinated by death, who end up learning about life. (Fiction. 10-13)