A Japanese teen contracts a fatal disease and tests the strength of friendship.
Online, introverted Abe Sora can be anything—like the 17-year-old baseball player he was before Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stole his ability to walk and even attend school. Largely homebound, he turns to samurai death poetry for comfort and the KyoToTeenz chat room for distraction. Eavesdropping on school woes and exchanging quips (printed in various types for verisimilitude), he meets artistic Mai and techy Kaito, and he eventually invites them to dinner. Overcoming their initial awkwardness, they become inseparable. Through vividly depicted outings and comic-book adventures, they give Sora something to live for as his health declines. Search terms like "help me die" foreshadow his outlook, however, and after poignantly encountering a dying man and waking up unable to use his fingers, he wonders if his friends will help him. Sora's introspective narration, coupled with stark and startling moments of chapter-to-chapter deterioration, emphasizes that suicide is his personal choice, avoiding generalizations of disability as a whole. Their dialogue is sometimes stilted, but the supportive characterizations of Sora's family and friends ease the sharply articulated uncertainty of disability and dying young. References to samurai culture and snippets of poetry will leave readers at peace with the drifting ending.
Benwell's gentle treatment of friendship and death with dignity will touch fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012). (glossary) (Fiction. 13-18)