Title: Leave of Absence
Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: April 2013
About the Book:
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.
As my regular readers know, we have dealt with our share of mental health issues in our family. Bud has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and chronic insomnia. Art’s uncle has bipolar disorder. Art’s grandfather had paranoid schizophrenia. I have also had bouts of anxiety. So it was with great interest and trepidation that I started Leave of Absence. I was fearful that it would read like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
But just a few pages in, I realized that this book is something completely different. Something special. Tanya J. Peterson captures the agony and beauty (and yes there are both) of mental illness in both Oliver and Penelope. The characters help you to feel what they are feeling. I had a harder time connecting with Penelope’s character because she hears voices, but I could identify with how she felt when she asked her fiance’ to leave because she didn’t want to burden him with her illness. There have been many times when I have asked Art why he stays. After all, he didn’t sign on for an anxious asthmatic. I was a normal, bouncy teenager when we met.
Penelope’s fiance’, William, describes his love for her in this way:
It was a deep, all-encompassing love that didn’t just stop when things became difficult. When he looked at her, not just at her happy images in photographs, but at her, no matter how she was in the moment, he saw Penelope. He didn’t see a mental illness. He saw the whole picture – the woman he loved who happened to be experiencing something awful.
That was just the first time I cried while reading this book. There are so many touching moments as Oliver learns to confront his past and accept his feelings and Penelope learns how to work with the voices in her head. At one point in the book, she explains to Oliver how for her shapes and colors have meanings. For example, blue is love or friendship, lines are truthfulness and octagons are gratitude. After she meticulously draws out beautiful geometrical patterns for Oliver so he can have a “cheat sheet” of her world, he responds in this way:
He reached for the box of crayons on the table and slowly slid out a blue crayon. He drew an octagon on his paper. His hand shook and he made the lines all wobbly, but it was still recognizable as an octagon. Inside the octagon he drew a stick figure with a ponytail and labeled it “Penelope.” He drew a line under the octagon.
Anyone who has or knows someone with a mental illness will appreciate the journey that Oliver, Penelope and their loved ones take toward healing and understanding.
I give Leave of Absence 4 1/2 blue crayons. Love it!!
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. She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition. In addition to Leave of Absence, she has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are 100% my own.