From Publishers Weekly
In an eloquent initiation story that first touches and then pierces the heart, Japanese first-novelist Yumoto introduces three irresistible 12-year-old boys, whose fascination with death leads to an unexpected friendship. Chubby Yamashita, "four-eyed" Kawabe, and bean-pole Kiyama, the narrator, hear that the old man who lives by the calligraphy schools "will probably drop dead soon"; hoping to witness the event, the boys organize a daily lookout. Their spy mission backfires, however, when the old man, who seems to have plenty of energy, discovers their presence and solicits their help in doing chores. Hanging out the old man's laundry, weeding his yard and planting flowers may not have been part of the trio's plan, but these experiences fill a need in each boy's life. During the course of their relationship with the old man, Yamashita, Kawabe and Kiyama learn how to confront their fears and accept the inevitable. The passage of the time and the nature of mutability are poetically expressed in this warmly humorous narrative, deserving of equally high marks in kid appeal and literary merit. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5^-7. Outsiders at home and at school, Kiyama and his two awkward sixth-grade friends decide to spy on a solitary old man in their small Japanese town. They want to see what happens when he dies. For them, death is the stuff of nightmare and ghosts, a fearful unknown. At first, the old man is angry, but their attention revitalizes him, and he draws them into his home. Together they fix his house, clean up his yard, plant a garden, and every day after cram school, gather there. When he does die, there's no horror--only heartfelt grief and loving memories that give them strength to go on. The novel is long, sometimes slow-moving, and Kiyama's first-person narrative is too articulate about his fears and their resolution. But the translation from the Japanese is immediate, both lyrical and casual. The characters, including the old man, are subtly drawn. Readers will be moved by the terror of death, the bond across generations, and the struggle of those whom society labels losers. Hazel Rochman