cover image The Friends

The Friends

Kazumi Yumoto. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32460-5

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. (Oct.)