Mini-Review: How Do You Live?

Three different book covers of How Do You Live? The first shows young men in uniform walking on a street under the light of the moon. Their backs are to reader. The second is not realistic and shows the back of a young man in traditional Japanese clothing sitting on a rounded object with other rounded objects nearby. The final is in daylight and has a young boy riding a bicycle toward reader. He's in the countryside and is looking up toward the sky.

How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshinō–Translated by Bruno Navasky

Publisher’s Summary: First published in 1937, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live? has long been acknowledged in Japan as a crossover classic for young readers. Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book and announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film.

How Do You Live? is narrated in two voices. The first belongs to Copper, fifteen, who after the death of his father must confront inevitable and enormous change, including his own betrayal of his best friend. In between episodes of Copper’s emerging story, his uncle writes to him in a journal, sharing knowledge and offering advice on life’s big questions as Copper begins to encounter them. Over the course of the story, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, looks to the stars, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth, and human nature to answer the question of how he will live.

My Thoughts: We review young adult books here and this one kind of crosses lines. The publisher is recommending it for ages 10-14 so they seem to have it in the middle-grade range. I know many readers “read up” and will with this one, but I think this is one that many teens are going to grab for the connection with Hayao Miyazaki. That’s why it initially appealed to me. The main character is 15 and the content leans toward the philosophical with much to ponder for an older reader.

Copper wonders about a lot of things in his world and is beginning to see himself as a small part of the world rather than the center of it. He’s noticing how people are interconnected and in relationship with one another rather than simply individuals making their own way through life. This is an interesting tale meandering through questions about life, what it means to be human, and how to engage with those around us as we contribute to the shaping of our world.

Recommendation: This will be a nice book for anyone who enjoys contemplative works or is a fan of Miyazaki’s movies. Not a lot happens in the book, but it tackles a lot of big ideas.

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 288
Review copy: ARC via publisher
Publication date: Oct. 26, 2021

Gizmodo Article–with an excerpt
For a much more thorough review of the original Japanese publication, I highly recommend a visit to  the blog My Little Dejama.