If you were to sit me down and ask me to guess the summary of a book with the title I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, my first guess sure wouldn't be “A coming-of-age story about an introvert befriending a girl dying of pancreatic disease and learning what it means to love others and be loved by others.” That might've been my sixth or seventh guess, but surely not my first. It's a silly title whose juxtaposition to the gorgeous cover art would either steer readers clear or inspire someone to pick it up just to see if there are any zombies in it.
I Want to Eat Your Liver starts off with the death of the heroine, Sakura Yamauchi, just in case you had a sliver of hope for the girl with the terminal illness making it through to the end. The spring tree to Sakura's cherry blossoms is—Well, the narrator has a name, but revealing it would be a spoiler, since he keeps it under wraps 94% of the page count, so we'll just call him Mr. Doom and Gloom.
Mr. Doom and Gloom is, as my moniker for him suggests, the western wind that brings the April downpour. He has zero interest in three-dimensional human beings and would rather shove his nose in a book 24/7. One day while at the hospital, he finds a poor book left to wither and so picks it up to read. Turns out that book is a diary titled Living With Dying, penned by someone afflicted with a failing pancreas, and that someone is his bright and cheery classmate, Sakura. Now that the secret's out, she drags him all over the place so that she can live life with a friend who doesn't bawl like a two-year-old because they know she's gonna buy her death sooner than later.
In case you're curious, the title stems from a belief our crazy coot ancestors used to have which posited that if one of your organs wasn't doing so hot, the fix was to eat a healthy version of said wonky organ. Modern medicine has rendered such notions absurd, but it's espousing such absurd notions that underlines the carefree personality of Sakura and the polarity between her and Mr. Gloom and Doom. When I started this novel, I was a bit put off at what seemed to be a romance between two people who shouldn't have a gram of chemistry, but what won me over was how it leaned into this dichotomy.
Sakura and Mr. Doom and Gloom are polar opposites, something the book's a little too quick to remind us of, and it expresses this along a wide spectrum, from their outlooks on life to basic interests. There're splashes of romance, but their relationship constructs itself using this as its framework, so Sakura's attraction to him isn't because she's into the strong, silent type, but because she admires his traits and who he is as a person and how he carries his life on his own terms rather than adhering to the social norms of others, and the same eventually checks true for Mr. Doom and Gloom.
One of the neater qualities of this novel is how you can see Mr. Doom and Gloom's growth in real time. At first when Sakura's pulling him here and there by the nose, he's almost entirely apathetic to her. His responses are curt, and he constantly sidesteps her questions or smacks down her unfounded enthusiasm, but after becoming acquainted with her enough, he meets her airy comments with snark, and eventually he finds himself laughing alongside her. I love the organic discovery of details like this, so it kinda ruined it for me when Mr. Doom and Gloom brings all engines to a halt to expound on how much he had changed. It's not as bad as something like Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, where the characters spend the second half of the show repeating how much Jim and Nancy have or haven't changed, but it still feels like the book is admonishing me for not turning in a homework assignment it never assigned.
Since I Want to Eat Your Ovaries took a moment to stop and explain something, I'm gonna take a moment to stop and explain that there's only so much to say to someone who has yet to have the chance to cry their eyes out reading it. This novel is laser-focused on Sakura and Mr. Doom and Gloom's relationship and doesn't have time for nothing else. Every paragraph of every chapter revolves around this bond, and discussing it in any more detail would spoil that organic discovery I just waggled my finger disapprovingly about. Mutual knowledge of Sakura's illness is what binds the two into a pair, but that's just the catalyst for kicking things into motion. We only receive the barest behind-the-scenes of the medication and treatment Sakura has to endure to live the normal life she leads, then it whips our attention back to another “Will they or won't they?” moment. Talking about something not entirely related to their relationship would just be me talking about how they go out to eat all the time, but that didn't bore me to tears.
Okay, I lied. There is one other thing not entirely related to their relationship to talk about, and it's that I Want to Eat Your Entrails has a plot twist that left me literally nauseated. It's not like there's a graphically detailed account of the girl's pancreas exploding. I could watch a slow-motion director's cut of that while munching on my morning bowl of cereal and not feel a thing, but just one line was enough to make me regret reaching for a second bowl. Take that however you will. Perhaps it's the hallmark of an exceptionally written novel, or perhaps I'm just a timid little girl who can't handle a shock in her life. I won't spoil the twist, but I'll just say the irony's so thick you could weld a surgical scalpel from it and carve out someone's pancreas.
I Want to Eat Your Spinal Column is one of those rare works that provides you a new shift in perspective. It's easy to slot our relationships into one of several categories with tightropes strung between, but I Want to Eat Your Lymphatic System cuts through that rope and sets up a cubby-hole all its own. If you want it described with quotes put on the back jacket of bestsellers, I Want to Eat Your Anatomical Snuffbox is “captivating,” it's “heartwarming and heartrending,” it's “the best read you'll have in a long time,” “this novel nauseates me,” and it's “inspiring.” I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is a silly title with a silly premise behind it, but this novel says so much in under 300 pages that by the time you reach the back cover, it's so much more than a silly little phrase.
Wanna find out all the differences between the book and the film? Check them out on CCCYabbering.