Japanese Novel Review: 君の膵臓をたべたい I want to eat your Pancreas by Sumino Yoru (住野よる)

I purchased this novel from Chicago’s Kinokuniya store location for 11.99. I now have a car again and am super happy that I am able to go to Kinokuniya more often.  I’m just more excited about books when I can pick them out in person and it makes me happy to randomly spot a book that has been on my mind for a while. I was on the look out for some light reading and decided to pick up some books by Sumino Yoru as it seems like his books are popular in the language learning community. I have heard of I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい) but I was surprised to find that this book was a runner up for the 2016 Booksellers Award. That really peaked my interested and helped me to make the purchase. I also picked up a copy of Sumino’s Blue, Painful and Brittle(青くて痛くて脆い). Sumino’s novels tend to turn into many other forms of media such as movies, anime, and manga which can make these novels great language learning tools.

I want to write reviews for more novels that would be useful for language learners who are more towards the start of their literary journey, but its hard as I live in America and do not have access to low priced books or normal Japanese libraries. While I have found some libraries that have Japanese novels, they are all closed to the public due to COVID. I am hoping that once the vaccine starts rolling out(I am getting mine December 2020!!!) that it will be easier for me to find lower level books to read.

Story review:

This is a story of how two complete strangers form a bond over a shared secret and slowly/quickly become friends(depends on who you ask).  Haruki is a quiet bookworm who spends his time avoiding all forms of social interaction and being holed up in his room reading novels. Haruki is waiting in the lobby of a hospital for a post-surgery check up when he finds a random novel that someone has left behind.  Being the book lover that he is, he picks up the book to see that that person was reading only to find out that is was a diary.  With in the first few sentences, the author of the diary mentions that they have less then a year to live and are working on living a good life with their sickness instead of living in fear.  Haruki feels bad about accidentally invading someones privacy and starts to put the book back before hearing someone call his name.  It was someone from his school that was in the same class as him but who he has never had a real conversation with before. Sakura mentioned that her illness was a secret and asked Haruki not to mention it to anyone else. 

Haruki thought that life would go back to normal, but suddenly Sakura also decides to work in the school library with him and they start spending more time together.  Sakura isn’t much of a reader and doesn’t really know any novels outside of The Little Prince. Haruki doesn’t seem to understand why Sakura would want to waste her short life in the library and thinks she should be out there doing something exciting.  But Sakura’s idea of living her life is experiencing as much of the everyday experiences as she can. Haruki asks her about what she wants to do before she dies and she starts to invite him on little outing such as spending too much money at restaurants and going to cute cafes.

From the start of this novel, the author made the stylistic choice of not writing down the main characters name(Haruki). There is a lot of dialog in this book, so in place of the characters name, there is a description of the character followed by a name suffix. Like ‘Mr. classmate who knows my secret’ or ‘Mr. plain looking classmate’ depending on what time the conversation is taking place in the story line. Despite this choice, it is really easy to keep track of which character is which. But it does contribute to the fact that the main character falls a bit flat. The male student is like a blank state. His personality is description is basically just a lack of personality all together. His only hobbies are reading novels and avoiding social interaction. Its almost like his only use in the story is to be a vessel for the life lessons that the character Sakura has to teach. Sakura herself seems to fall into the trope ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.’

Let’s say you’re a soulful, brooding male hero, living a sheltered, emotionless existence. If only someone could come along and open your heart to the great, wondrous adventure of life…

TvTropes.org

She is the childlike whimsical girl who is attractive, popular, energetic and she is here to change Haruki’s life and bring him out of his shell. It seems both strange to the reader and the main character themselves that this type of girl would take a sudden interest in such a boring guy.

While Sakura seems like the perfect personification of this trope at times, Sakura is an individual with her own motivation who is going through major life changes with her current illness.  I just wish that in the novel they showed more of how Sakura acted with her other classmates.  I would love to see how it compares.  Sakura claims that she no one else in class knows about her illness and her conversations with the main character really seem to center around her death and how she is trying to handle it.  Is Sakura just a stereotype of a bright and energetic popular high school student who only lives for others? Is she hiding her pain behind her smile?  Or is she just able to finally be herself to the one classmate who randomly found out her secret?

While there are some issues with the story, I really like how this author was able to write dialog in a way that seemed completely natural.  Sometimes what the characters were saying didn’t match up 100% depending on their own motives or attention spans.  A lot of books have dialog that seem too scripted or stiff, but this book just have the perfect about of randomness that made it seem like a real conversations that would happen between classmates.

My experience reading this book:

I bought this book expecting it to be an easy read.  Like I think I had the image that it was written in a style for young students who just aren’t that into reading.  But that wasn’t the case and the difficulty seems to be about average for books that I end up picking out for myself. I enjoyed the book, but if I would have taken the time to read a few more pages before picking it up, I think I would have rather picked a book with a more mature story line. Sometimes I have a hard time finding movies or TV shows to watch and end up watching media set in high schools and it gets old. But I knew that this author was popular with language learners and I am glad that I got the chance to read this book and write a review to help other decide if its a good fit for them or not.

I have started to write an article reflecting on how I choose what novels to read and it got me thinking about how I have been really getting into the idea of reading books or watching movies that are really popular in Japan.  I don’t really feel the same about media in English and the books I usually read then to be all over the place.  I don’t go out of my way to read popular or award winning books in English. But for books in Japanese, looking at different awards and popularity rankings has become one of the main ways I pick out novels. I recently have been thinking about how to overcome cultural differences and increase the amount of shared experiences that I have with the average Japanese person.  Since I was raised in a different country and a large part of the Japanese population is not used to interacting with those from a different culture I cannot help but think that increasing the amount of shared experiences will help with my friendships and relationships.

Level Preface:

Just to give some background to my current level. I have been using Japanese for a long time now, but just decided somewhat recently to be more serious about gaining fluent literacy. This year I have finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in 2021. I started reading novels in 2020 and have read over 20 to completion.

Vocabulary: N2 student level

The vocabulary in this book was more difficult then I thought it would be. Just based off of the vocabulary, I think I would rate it a low N2 student level. But there are other factors involved that make me think that this book would be a good choice for N3 level learners.  N3 level students who have already read a few books should be able to tackle this novel no problem despite the vocabulary.

There are not many specific vocabulary groups that I found in this book. It is set in a high school with the main characters being high school students. There is a decent amount of vocabulary that is based on school life. One of the main characters does spend some time in a hospital as well, so there is some light use of medical terms.

笹船 – https://45mix.net/sasabune-no-tukurikata/

There is one word in this book that stuck out to me, 草舟(そうしゅう・くさぶね). I have never seen the word before and it wasn’t in my dictionary.  I looked it up online and it seems like quite a few people were looking it up specifically due to its appearance in I want to eat your Pancreas(君の膵臓をたべたい).  The best simple explanation I was able was on Yahoo and it said 「流されやすいと言う意味合いらしい」which I take to mean basically means someone is who too easy to persuade.  A grass blade floating in a river really has no choice or influence in what direction it goes in. This seems to fit Haruki pretty well as while his only desire seems to be to read books while avoiding people, he pretty much goes along with whatever Sakura wants even though he complains about it often.

Grammar: N2 student level

This book is written in first person from the perceptive of a high school student. Before buying this novel, I was convinced that all of Sumino’s books would be around a level N3 based off comments that I have read online.  But after reading thought this book… it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Due to the topics discussed in the book, a lot of the grammar seems to be written in a reflective or musing style that made use of lots N2 grammar points. The main character is well read which I think reflects in his sentence structures and thought process.

But, I do think the the setting of the book itself makes the book fairly easy to understand.  Its the story of two high school students spending time in basic settings such as the school library and cafes who are getting to know each other.  You know right from the beginning that Sakura does not have a long time left to live.

All of the characters in this novel speak in standard dialect, so even beginning readers will not find dialog to be too difficult in this novel. This book is fairly dialog heavy which might help readers get through the story more smoothly. The main character and Sakura’s speech are both properly gendered so language learners may be able to find good phrases to incorporate into their spoken Japanese. Also both of the main characters are the same age and speak in causal Japanese to one another.

Cultural References

I do not think that readers have to be very familiar with Japanese culture to understand this story.  As with any story written by a Japanese person for Japanese people, reading any book will help you learn more about Japanese culture bit by bit.

Who should read this book?

Readers who have a strong grasp of N3 concepts. This is a great book for those who like anime or books that have many different forms of media. The age of the characters and the setting may put some people off from this book. The books I tend to read have characters that span from young children to elderly. But the style of this book does feel like it was written for a younger crowd in mind.

For students who are at an earlier stage in their studies but a huge fan of the story line, I think this could still be a good book choice. I do think the the setting of the book itself makes the book fairly easy to understand.  Its the story of two high school students spending time in basic settings such as the school library and cafes who are getting to know each other.  You know right from the beginning that Sakura does not have a long time left to live. The concepts discussed in this book are not complicated and it is dialog heavy.  These points combined with the fact that there are many of forms of media that one can use while going through through this book could make it a good choice for N3 level students as well.

Length: Medium

At 325 pages long, this is not a short novel. There is a decent amount of language learning that can be done from this book considering the price. If possible, I think its a good idea to pick a sub-200 page book for a learners first novel, but this novel could be a solid choice as well due to the fact that it is very dialog heavy.

Related Media

If possible, I recommend reading The Little Prince(星の王子さま) before you start reading I want to eat your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい). I read it in reverse and I think knowing the story of The Little Prince would have added more to my enjoyment of the book.  The Little Prince is out of copyright in most countries so you will be able to find it online for free on many websites in many languages.  You can read my review of The Little Prince here, and here you can find a free e-book on Aozora Bunko.

The author of this novel, Sumino Yoru, has written a few other books as well.  Notable titles are 『よるのばけもの』『青くて痛くて脆い』『か「」く「」し「」ご「」と「』and 「また、同じ夢を見ていた」.  I have not read any of these novels yet but I do own Blue, Painful and Brittle(青くて痛くて脆い) and after looking over the first first pages, it appears to have a similar feeling to I want to eat your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい). I have heard that 「また、同じ夢を見ていた」is a fairly easy book to read and am looking forward to reading it in the future.

If you are the type to like to experience one story over different media formats this is the story for you!

There is a live action movie.  This movie slightly differs from the novel as it is written from the perceptive of the main character after he has become an adult and reflects back on his time at high school.

I have not read the manga so I am not sure if the story line differs at all.  But there is a two volume set being sold and the story line appears to be loyal to the novel.

And then there is the animated movie!

 

 

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Novel Review: 君の膵臓をたべたい I want to eat your Pancreas by Sumino Yoru (住野よる)”

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