Tanya J. Peterson’s Leave of Absence has also made the list of contenders for my 2013 favorites. At times heart wrenching, the story of Oliver and Penelope will leave you with a new understanding of mental illness and remind you that we’re all in this dance of life together.
From the book description: “In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. 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 and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé 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. Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.”
My heart broke for Oliver, of course, so broken from losing the people in his life he loved the most. I have never felt a loss to that degree, and could only imagine the depths of his hopelessness. But Peterson’s writing illuminates Oliver’s despair in a way that those of us unfamiliar with severe depression can appreciate. Similarly, Penelope knows she sick. She knows that she does not function the way she did before her illness. She knows she converses with people no one else sees, and she knows this isn’t “normal”. She can’t understand how her fiance can still love her and want a life with her. This is another struggle that Peterson plays out beautifully, making Penelope sympathetic without making her actions seem selfish or selfishly altruistic.
But through all the pain, all the angst, there is still a thread of hope. At first just very tiny, we see it grow throughout the story- although not without its loops and back steps.
Leave of Absence is about mental illness, yes, but ultimately so much more: the power of hope, of human connection, of daring to believe that things might get a little bit better, of being open to being loved.
While it isn’t a light read, I still say put this one on your reading list. You won’t be disappointed.
A trailer for the book can be found here.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.