Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Leave of Absence: Review and Giveaway

Having read an earlier novel by Tanya J. Peterson, Losing Elizabeth, a story about a young girl with a boyfriend who becomes increasingly controlling and violent, I had a feeling that the author's new book, Leave of Absence, published in 2013, would also be intense.  I was not mistaken. In the opening chapter of Leave of Absence, Oliver Graham is about to jump off the roof of an eighteen-story building.  Having recently lost his wife and young son, Oliver is desperate and distraught, and wishes to end his life.  This is a fitting opening for a book that goes on to tackle some very difficult subjects, including serious mental health issues, murder, and infidelity.  Oliver jumps off the building, along with an officer who has grasped onto him, but they survive because there's a landing pad below.  Oliver is then transported to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center, because of his suicide attempt.

Oliver's past life with his wife, Maggie, and young son, Henry, is recounted in the book through a series of memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks.  Oliver is extremely agitated, because he could not save his wife and son, who were killed at a park.  Unable to cope with his feelings about the situation, he's left his house and his job, has become homeless, and wants to die.  Oliver's inconsolable and misses his family.  He wears the same outfit every day because it was a gift from his wife, and he feels incredibly guilty about their deaths (and is blamed by his wife's mother, Nancy).  His reaction and suicide attempt may seem extreme, but given what has happened, I understand his profound despair, his "leave of absence" from life.  His terrible mental state is a direct result of the horrific events and trauma, and he needs counseling and treatment.  He's a caring man who feels awful and responsible for "not being there", for not being able to save his wife and child, and he now apologizes frequently for everything when he speaks to others. 

At Airhaven, Oliver meets another patient, thirty-year-old Penelope Baker, who is schizophrenic.  The book focuses on the friendship developing between these two main characters, Oliver and Penelope, although there are other important characters, too, like William Vaile, a talented chef.  In spite of his personal misery, Oliver reaches out to Penelope, who's suffering because of her mental illness and the way it's affected her life and those she's close to; he acknowledges that his presence and kind words help her.  Oliver tries to make her realize that she must not push away William, her fiancé, who truly loves her.

Penelope feels as if she's lost control over herself, due to schizophrenia, which has affected her for the past couple of years; she's taken a "leave of absence" from her previous life.  Her former life, which included a promising job and a future with a man who cares about her, is gone.  Afraid that her mental illness will also ruin William's life, she pushes him away, even though he's completely dedicated to her, in spite of her illness (and in spite of the efforts of his attractive new neighbor, Mariska).  Others do not understand William's steadfast loyalty to Penelope.  They tend to regard her as "crazy" or strange, and shun her; William's "friend", Rob, lacks sensitivity and makes rude and uninformed comments, and shows how people with mental illnesses may be judged, ridiculed, and berated by others.

Both Oliver and Penelope are sensitive, considerate, likable individuals who do not want to inflict pain on others.  This moving and profound story underscores the importance of mental illness to overall health, and shows that these illnesses can be managed with treatment that may include medication and counseling--and connection to others.  The friendship between Oliver and Penelope becomes increasingly important.  They spend time together at Airhaven, and begin to share their feelings and concerns with each other.  Their empathetic friendship contributes greatly to their emotional well-being.  In fact, it becomes a lifeline for both of them.  In a larger sense, it shows how genuine connection with others is a vital part of mental health. 

Leave of Absence is an absorbing story about mental illness and its ramifications, and I entered a new world in this book.  (Although I believe I'm a sensitive person, I must admit that I don't usually think about mental health, except once in a while, if I question my own strong feelings about something, particularly if they're negative, or if I wonder if someone else might be having some mental health issues.)  I've never before been "inside of the head" of a schizophrenic, and it was a fascinating experience.  Penelope hears the voice of a domineering "Eleanor Roosevelt" who's critical and mean and who pressures her to do odd things, such as eat crayons.  This character undermines Penelope's self-esteem and overall mental health, and makes her feel awful about herself.  At one point in the story, William gives Penelope Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, with the hope that if they learn about this woman perhaps they can also discover how to deal with her presence and "voice" more effectively, and curtail future harassment.  Oliver's depression has made him homeless and suicidal, and because he's unable to eat, the staff at Airhaven give him Ensure for sustenance.  The loss of his wife and child have left him with an insurmountable amount of remorse and guilt--even though what occurred was truly not his fault.  Although he continues to suffer emotionally, very gradually, Oliver begins to see a tenuous glimmer of hope.  I felt as if I could understand the agony that these characters were going through, and when they began to feel better, I did, too. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S.. The aim of Mental Health Awareness Month is to educate and inform people about a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and to reduce stigmas.  This book definitely raised my own awareness of mental health, particularly in regards to depression and schizophrenia.  Although the story's fictional and dramatic, it's believable and well written, and it makes you think about the importance of mental health.  Leave of Absence is a compassionate novel which drew me in promptly and clutched my emotions and attention until the very end.

Tanya J. Peterson is graciously offering a copy of Leave of Absence as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, May 20.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 21.  Good luck!

Special thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book, and for including me on her book tour.  Please visit the other stops on the Leave of Absence Virtual Book Tour for additional reviews and other features.


  1. Susan, this is a very insightful review that addresses important themes of Leave of Absence! You even tied some of the meaning of the title. I like that!With this book, I wanted to raise awareness of mental health issues, and I'm happy that you think it did just that. Thanks for your thoughtful review!

    p.s. This comment doesn't count for your drawing!! :)

  2. Tanya, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your comment very much!

  3. A very serious read, indeed! Excellent review, Suko!

  4. Thanks for this compelling giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. The review captivated my interest. Many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  6. What a great review - thanks so much!
    Definitely a book I would like to read.

  7. We have a long way to go to treat mental health properly. I know living with it has to be difficult for everyone involved. This book sounds great!

  8. Once upon a time such a taboo subject, its great to see mental health issues being written about in this way. Great review, thanks for the recommendation.

  9. Thanks for your review. This sounds like an interesting story. I am a follower of your blog. Thanks for the giveaway!

  10. This does sound like a really good but perhaps troubling book. I also think that it takes a sightly different angle towards mental illness. I think that mental illness is often caused by, and portrayed in literature as either chemical based, or the result of years of trauma. I think that while less common, it can be caused by a single horrible incident. I think that it is a good think this book takes a look at that scenario.

  11. I like books that explore mental illness because it goes unexplored in our society. Would love to win this one. I am an old follower.

  12. Because Mental Health is for me a painful issue, I was very interested by your compassionate post. Thanks, Suko !

  13. Very well written review! Thoughtful, Insightful too, as I know a few friends with mental illness.

  14. What a great review Suko. Leave of Absence sounds like a thought provoking and emotional book. The topic of mental illness is heart wrenching yet can also be fascinating to read about. If the book made you feel better when the characters did, then it was very well written! Glad you enjoyed this one.

  15. This sounds like quite an intense read! It definitely sound like a very interesting book even if it would be likely to make me cry :) Great review!

  16. Great review. This sounds like a book that would take me on an emotional roller coaster. No need to enter me.

  17. Thanks for all the comments! The winner will be announced tomorrow.

  18. I'm excited by all of the comments! Thank you, everyone, for reading Suko's incredible review and for being interested in Leave of Absence. Its message won't be heard if no one notices it, so I'm grateful to you, Suko, and to all of your readers. :)

    1. It's been my pleasure, Tanya! I've enjoyed being on the virtual tour for your book, Leave of Absence.


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