Summary: Curious about death, three sixth-grade boys decide to spy on an old man waiting for him to die, but they end up becoming his friends.
“…we human beings progress because we have the desire to know.”
Personal note: I read the book in Vietnamese, and I couldn’t find the English version online. So at first I thought I would quote some famous reviews below. But The friends‘ quotes are sooooo good, I will translate them from the Vietnamese version. Thus, the quotes below are not exact the same with the original English version.
A beautiful friendship
When I first read the book, I thought it’s about the strong bond between Kiyama, Yamashita and Wakabe. There’s gonna be adventures, and fights, and lessons about friendship for those three. In short, a story for kids. However, my first impression was wrong.
The story starts when the three curious 6th-graders decide to spy on an old man living alone – to find out if he’s dead, and what death is really like. And the friendship turns out to be between the 3 kids and the old man. Yumoto is truly brilliant as she can build up a relationship between grown-ups and children: not the kind of grandfather-grandchildren, but an equal, respectful and meaningful relationship between the two parties.
Light always exists around us, but its colors are hidden. Maybe there are countless hidden things that we cannot see.
The friends offer readers the storytelling that is of a mellifluous country song, and the scenery that is of a magical fairy tale. The three children, gradually, learned to work hard and to make their own decisions. They help the old man take out the garbage, fix his house, and choose flower seeds for their own garden.The old man learned to appreciate those around him and especially himself. He learned to cook instead of using fastfood, to teach to kids new things and to share his stories.
Life and Death
Another main theme of the book is life and death. Apparently, death is the main theme of Yumoto’s many noteworthy works. Throughout the book, Kiyama, the storyteller, has many questions revolving this issue, as well as his two friends. This is also the primary motivation that those three came into contact with the old man.
Will someday I be able to do something worth dying for? Even if I can’t do it, I still hope to find it. If not, then what am I living for?
Contrary to the common assumption that Death is supposed to be dark and scary, the author helps us to look under a child’s microscope: It’s just another mystery in this strange world waiting to be discovered. The three children learn that the old man’s hunchback and his scars are more than just appearance. They learn to love, and to forgive. They learn to face death.
Because living isn’t just breathing.
In the end, I believe this book has an original way to look at friendship and death. Maybe you will find a piece of childhood in it: an innocent yet unimaginably curious child who couldn’t stop asking about the world.
Hope you enjoy ! xD