By Yoru Sumino. Released in Japan as “Kimi no Suizō o Tabetai” by Futabasha. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Nathan Collins.
The book spoils you on page 1, so allow me to do the same: the heroine does not survive the book. That is in fact, the point of the book, which is a novel rather than a light novel, and has its feet planted firmly on the ground. Despite the title, this is not about zombies or anything like that. Sakura, the heroine, has something wrong with her pancreas, to the point that she has a year to live at most. Our hero, whose name remains deliberately obscured for most of the book, accidentally finds out about this (they’re classmates, but she’s only told her family and is hiding it from everyone else) and the bulk of the book is the two of them gradually getting closer and hanging out. They’re not quite falling in love (I suspect were it not for her illness they’d get together much faster, even with the hero’s personality issues), but most of the prose till near the end consists of either school or “dates”.
The handling of the hero’s name is quite interesting, if a bit aggravating at first. He’s defined by how others think of him – for most of the first half Sakura (who he also avoids naming, so her name also rarely comes up) refers to him as “Classmate I Get Along With-kun”. but this changes depending on circumstances, and other people like classmates also address him this way. It ties into the book that Sakura is writing, called Living with Dying, and while the text of this novel isn’t that book, it does sort of follows the rules of said book, which also avoids using him name. Speaking of the hero, he is a loner and something of an outcast – always reading, self-proclaimed with no friends, but very perceptive in a negative sort of way. Of course, he’s not as perceptive when it comes to emotions, and one of the highlights of the book is a fight that he and Sakura have over a misunderstanding.
Again, I will try not to spoil too much, but there is a definite sense that the book is going to end the way you’d expect (I mean, it begins with her funeral, which our hero does not attend), but the book has a few surprises in its last quarter or so. The surprise might upset a few readers – it’s foreshadowed, but not by much. That said, it’s mentioned that “real life doesn’t work like an novel”, and you get the feeling that the way things played out was the author’s way of avoiding things simply being too predictable. I also felt the epilogue, which jumps forward in time and avoids showing us two characters’ growth more than I like, was a bit abrupt, but that’s likely because the payoff of everything right after Sakura’s death was the best part of the book, and very emotionally raw.
This is not, for most of the time, a depressing tragedy of a book. I tweeted that it felt like a darker Teasing Master Takagi-san, and given that Sakura spends most of the time imposing demands on our nameless hero’s time, there’s a lot of Haruhi Suzumiya here as well. It’s a touching story of two people who have a deep and affecting impact on each other’s lives over the course of only a few months. I really, really enjoyed it.