Author: Author: Yoru Sumino, Artist: Idumi Kirihara (Translator: Beni Axia Conrad)
Publish Date: English Edition: January 22, 2019 (original in Japanese in 2016)
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment (Macmillan)
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1642750324
By M. T. Bennett
From “A Walk to Remember” to “The Fault in Our Stars”, teen romance stories are awash in the cliché of falling in love with someone who has a terminal illness. Author Yoru Sumino and artist Idumi Kirihara (translation by Beni Axia Conrad) give their perspective on it in the manga novel, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas which also has an anime and live-action adaptation. As is often the case, in these kinds of stories a troubled young boy falls for a slowly dying girl. We will call the main character “MC” for this review because his name is not revealed until the very end of the book and I want to avoid spoilers. MC is an introverted person who is uncomfortable with how others perceive him based on his name. Thus, throughout the book whenever he is addressed by name it is replaced with something else, like [Classmate Who Knows My Secret], [Introverted Classmate], or [Depressed Looking Classmate].
The girl, Yamauchi Sakura, has an unspecified terminal pancreatic disease. She is encouraged to keep a grief journal about her illness, but it is accidentally discovered by MC, revealing her secret. Sakura has kept her illness hidden from everyone but her family and feels liberated in having someone else know. Her parents worry for her, and she is afraid of how her friends will treat her differently. When MC barely gives a reaction to learning one of his classmates is dying, she is intrigued.
Sakura wants to live whatever remaining life she has to the fullest and begins inviting MC on all sorts of excursions with her since he knows her secret but isn’t treating her differently. From restaurants to vacations in neighboring towns they spend time with one another. Sakura often flippantly talks about her impending death and how she wants to find all the joy in life she can. This is hard for MC as he starts to open up and struggles to understand his feelings for Sakura and realizes that she will one day be gone leaving him with just her memory.
The title of the book comes from a story Sakura tells about a belief in some cultures that if a person were sick, they would eat the corresponding healthy part from an animal and get better. Thus, she factitiously says she wants to eat MC’s pancreas.
Before meeting Sakura, MC had no friends. He is a stoic loner who is a stranger to everyone around him. He tells himself it is because he does not want drama, but really is afraid to connect with people and lose them. Meeting Sakura was exactly the kind of thing he wanted to avoid but he feels himself compelled to be with her. One time he asks Sakura what it means “to live” and she says that it means “having a bond with others.” In their time together they teach one another what it means to live and how to approach death.
Death plays a prominent role in the story, and one might think the reader would be ready for when Sakura dies. However, her death is a shock and surprise which further illustrates the fragility of life and the need we have to live it. MC is left to grieve the loss of his friend. The story follows the impact of Sakura’s death among her parents and friends up to a year later. Despite having his worst fears realized and losing someone close to him, MC has grown and sought out more friends, making more bonds with others.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is a great young-adult book with beautiful art. It can help an adolescent see how to navigate the confusion of being a teenager, romance, feelings of attraction, loneliness, making friends, feeling judged, and more. Additionally, it covers very heavy topics like depression, losing someone close to you, what it means to die, and what it means to really live.
M.T. Bennett is a student at Trinity School of Medicine. He enjoys writing and spending time with his wife and three sons. Bennett is the author of “Dark and Bright: Poetry and Prose.” His poetry and articles have appeared in Intuition, Chiasm, Poet’s Choice, HEAL, America Media, In-Training, and KevinMD. Twitter handle: @BennettEmpty