Yamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama are friends on the verge of adulthood, or at least middle school. With the future looming ahead, the three boys think it is high time they underwent a rite of passage, namely: witnessing a death. For this activity, the boys choose to watch an unkempt old man who looks as if he has one foot in the grave already. Their plans crumble when the old man realizes he is being watched. Proving to be very lively, he browbeats the boys into doing his house work. Yamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama’s grand rite of passage is ruined, but their journey to adulthood is just beginning.
This book is a Japanese import. Fully translated, it still contains some concepts that may not be familiar to American readers. The text explains these things in a way that can be understood and is unobtrusive to the narrative. The Friends reads almost like a 1980’s film, making the text easy and enjoyable to read.
The story is simultaneously warm, and unsentimental. The harsh realities of life and death are examined realistically, but this is softened by the truly wonderful relationships that develop between the characters. As the story unfolds, the old man becomes a nurturing figure that the three boys never knew they needed. Conversely, the boys bring a spark back into the old man’s life, enabling him to face his past, and his quickly shrinking future. This is a book for readers 10 and up, but has applications for any reader experiencing grief, death, or the existential terror brought on by the passage of time.