Book: Leave of Absence by Tanya Peterson
Genre: Contemporary fiction, mental health, personal struggles
Source + Date Read: Review request and review copy sent by Publisher + May 2013
Recommend: For those that enjoy a frank and startling view or look at some aspect of contemporary society. Peterson writes about mental health and illness in a beautifully unabashed way.
Book Pro’s: Strong content. Each character has a depth and clarity to them that raises issues as to cultural and personal acceptance of individuals with mental illness.
Book Con’s: I found the writing to be a bit awkward at times, borderline childish maybe? Everything was plainly said. So it wasn’t childish but very blunt and to the point. I found this irksome but I know many will find this to be an asset.
About Leave Of Absence
When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia’s devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiance William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.
Let me get a confession off my chest now: This book made me cry. Embarrassingly so. Maybe it’s because I read it when I was having a bad day or because I was stressed, but the various struggles that each character endured wormed its way into my heart.
My family struggles with various forms of mental illness and even though it is in our face every day, my extended family still manages to avoid any mentioning of it. It’s taboo, an unspoken badness that befell our clan due to some sort of wrong we committed way back when. Well it seems to be. I’m fortunate that my parents didn’t take such a stance on mental illness and I grew up aware and knowing that it is like any other sickness, except this one is in someone’s head. They don’t deserve it and they did nothing to bring it on. I feel that Peterson’s Leave Of Absence achieves this clarity. Characters are startlingly honest and broken in a way, they struggle with their illnesses and with some serious external support, are able to find ways of coping and moving on.
One of the best parts of this book is how Peterson addresses the culture or taboo of mental illness. Even within the clinic, a few of the characters were stared at and avoided. It isn’t something you can catch people and yet minor characters treat those with mental illness like they’re diseased and ruining lives. Which they’re not, they are just having trouble coping. Through the support of loved ones, main characters Oliver and Penelope find solace in human contact and strength and are able to transcend their illness. They still struggle and readers are left thinking that they’ll never have a perfect or happy ending, but that they will at least be content with life and the support they have around them.