Tanya J. Peterson's Leave of Absence is a story about two people who suffer immensely from mental issues, but through each other's friendship they are able to face their fears and slowly accept the hope of a new beginning. Oliver suffers a huge loss and, finding it unbearable to keep on living, he attempts to take his life. He ends up in a behavioral center against his will, and finds himself warming up to Penelope, a patient who is unique in her own way, and suffering from schizophrenia. These two friends, each battling their own demons, reach out to one another in an effort to hold the other above water and keep them going. Penelope attempts to convince Oliver that his life is worth keeping, and Oliver and William -Penelope's fiance-, attempt to convince her that she is worth loving and her relationship with William is worth saving.
The novel is a very deep, heartfelt, touching novel about friendship, love, loss, mental illness, and most importantly, the significance of human connection. It is indeed heartbreaking to learn what mental illness can do to one's mind, body, self-esteem, principles, and just about everything to do with a person. This book gives us a glimpse of what goes on in a behavioral center, the constant support that is available to these patients (from the techs to the nurses to the doctors), the true nature of schizophrenia, the isolation that these patients feel as they are plagued by this illness and shunned by everyone around them, with little or no support. It reveals the bitter truth about how we act towards the mentally challenged - as though if we treated them normally, we would get their illness as well.
The novel also touches on loss and what grief can do to a person's psyche and outer body. Losing someone we love is a horrible thing, and not only does Oliver lose people he loved, but he also blames himself for it. This additional emotion is dangerous, and because he is unable to mourn and grieve properly, he is unable to move past that fateful day he lost them. He is severely tormented by nightmares and physical manifestations of his thought processes that seem real to him. With the help of his new friend Penelope, he is able to begin his journey towards healing.
I highly applaud Peterson for such a brilliant work. It is beautifully written - strong words that describe, portray, examine, and most importantly, show everything about the themes that need to be seen and understood by the reader. It contains some coarse language but not overtly so, and some descriptions are only mildly gory in terms of the imagery of blood and gunshots that come to mind. The only thing I found slightly confusing was the title; I thought the title was perhaps a bit too simple given the depth of the themes in the novel.
Overall, it is certainly one of the best reads I have read in a long time, and I highly recommend it to readers of any genre who simply love to read, whether just for entertainment purposes or for more.
***I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Leave of Absence on Amazon