Kiyama and his friends Kawabe and Yamashita become fascinated and curious about death when Yamashita's grandmother dies. They wonder what a dead body looks like and if the dead person becomes a ghost. They hope to see death firsthand by spying on an old man who looks like he will die soon. But while they watch the old man, he watches them. Soon their fascination for each other turns into a friendship that will change their lives forever.
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Kazumi Yumoto began her career as a writer by writing scripts for operas while attending Tokyo University of Music. After graduation she decided to try her hand at writing a novel for young readers. The Friends, her first book, is the winner of the 1997 Mildred A. Batchelder Award for Translation. It was also named an ALA Notable Children's Book and won the Recommended Book Prize from Japan School Library Book Club.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
An Excerpt from The Friends
I count my breaths when I lie in bed. One, two, three, four, five, six.
. .fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. . .After thirty I fall asleep.
Sleep wraps itself around me and pulls me under, but sometimes I float back
to the surface like an old shoe in water and I start counting again from
the beginning. One, two, three, four. . .
A long time ago I read that in one lifetime a person breaths from six hundred
million to eight hundred million times, and I couldn't stop trying to count
my breaths all day. It was in second grade, I think. But as I'd count, I
wouldn't be able to keep breathing. When the lack of air became unbearable,
I would burst out coughing and have to start counting all over again. I
counted during class and even while I was eating. I'd gasp and cough so
often that my mother would get irritated and say, "Stop that coughing!"
But I didn't know how.
In bed at night I would cry and scream, "I can't breathe! I've forgotten
how! I'm going to die! Mom!" At first my mother would sit by my pillow or
bring me warm milk to drink. This would calm me for a while, but as soon
as she left I would be overcome by the same fear. "I can't breathe! I'm
going to die!"
I don't need to call my mother anymore, but I still count my breaths before
I go to sleep. How many times have I breathed since I was born? If we breathe
eight hundred million times in eighty years, then at twelve I must have
breathed 120 million times. One hundred and twenty million little puffs
of air have passed through my lungs. How many more times will this go on?
Someday it will just stop, as though suddenly cut off. At five, eight, nine
hundred million times. And then. . .where will I go? Or maybe there is no
place to go.
I try to stop breathing. I shove my face in my pillow and count. One, two,
three. . .thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. . .thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two,
thirty-three, thirty-four. . .I close my eyes tightly. Yellow lights flicker
in the darkness, becoming a field of yellow flowers. My body starts to float
as though I am a bird looking down on the field. No, a fire. The yellow
flowers become little flames rising higher and spreading around them, forming
a sea of flame. Someone stands there. Their feet are covered in flame and
they wave to me. Who is it? But there it ends. I cannot stand it any longer
and my whole body gasps for air.
My uncle told me a long, long time ago when I was little that dying means
to stop breathing. And for a long time I believed it. But now I know that
that's not true. Living is more than just breathing. So dying must be more,
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Book Description Yearling, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0440414466
Book Description Yearling, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0440414466