Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Leave of Absence


Can fiction depict the raw truth of mental illness and instability? In Leave of Absence, author Tanya J. Peterson creates a searing story that offers insight and understanding into a world that most of us will never comprehend or experience. When Oliver Graham’s wife and child are tragically killed, he walks away from his life and off the edge of a building. Saved against his will by a brave and quick-thinking police office, Oliver enters Airhaven Behavioural Health Center. However, he doesn’t want to be there: he wants to be dead. He finds a shred of a connection with inmate Penelope who is struggling with schizophrenia. But Penelope has someone who wants her to live. Her fiancé, William, loves her and still wants to marry her. Penelope struggles to cling to the last remnants of sanity as the voices in her head, led by the dominating personality of Eleanor Roosevelt, threaten to take over. Oliver is consumed by guilt that he was not there to save his family; Penelope is consumed by guilt that she is wrecking the life of the man she loves. This odd couple (Oliver and Penelope) lean on each other, comfort each other, and try to give each other a reason to live.
This book is no easy read as it delves into the convoluted workings of the disturbed mind. Oliver’s mental breakdown comes from terrible grief and anguish, while Penelope’s is physiological and she requires medication to control her mind. Leaving the safe haven of the center is not easy and there is no happy ending with Penelope and Oliver riding off into the sunset with their respective loved ones. Instead, they struggle to cling to even the barest semblance of reality. The terror of panic attacks, the horrifying descent into perceived madness as the voices control the body is graphically described, suggesting the author’s personal experience in working with these conditions and intense research.

One cannot read this book and remain distanced; one must plunge right in and share the agony. Oliver’s pain and Penelope’s instability draw the reader into their world, and one finds oneself inhabiting the character’s skin. The reactions of Oliver’s family and William’s friends perfectly capture the kind of collateral damage that happens when someone near and dear is ‘less than normal.’

Author Tanya J. Peterson has both the experience and education to fully investigate the anguish of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. Ms. Peterson also has a deft and sensitive touch as she humanizes her characters, making us want to understand them, making us want them to be saved by something or someone, and at last, we see they must save themselves. A story of grief, friendship, downfall, and redemption, the threads of hope shine ever bright as Oliver and Penelope put their own pain and fear aside to help each other. The book is not about plot, in fact, it’s about life and two people who have to rebuild their broken realities. This is an excellent book for both sufferers of mental disorders, and their circle of family members and friends to read to gain insight and awareness into both temporary and more lasting mental disorders. Highly recommended. 5 Stars
About the Author: Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities. Her previous titles include Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship. To learn more, visit the author's site. Ms Peterson will visit my blog next week in an author Q&A.
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