Book Review: Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson

Leave of Absence Tanya J. Peterson
by Tanya J. Peterson

Inkwater Press, June 2013
Paperback, 327 pages
Source: Provided by publisher for review

Following a failed suicide attempt, Oliver is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center, a therapy-focused facility for the mentally ill. He is unable to cope with the traumatic deaths of his wife and young son, for which he blames himself. Although he does not believe he deserves to live while they are dead, he forms a connection with a fellow patient named Penelope.

Penelope is in her late 20s and was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years earlier. Since developing this condition, she has faced major changes to her personality and rejection by her friends, who can no longer relate to her. Only her fiance, William, has stood by her as she has changed from an intelligent, vibrant young woman to a withdrawn person with strange ideas, such as her beliefs that Eleanor Roosevelt speaks to her and controls her actions and that creatures called “Kerffies” have a language of colors.

Oliver sees the way everyone — even the other patients — shuns Penelope and understands how badly she needs a friend. The two patients form a bond as Penelope tries to convince Oliver that he is not responsible for his family’s death and Oliver tries to help Penelope realize that she is worth loving. Both characters struggle from very serious emotional trauma and instability, but they try to help each other heal and give each other reasons to live.

I really enjoyed reading Leave of Absence. Peterson has a background in counseling, and it definitely shows in her empathetic portrayal of grief and mental illness. There are so many stereotypes associated with schizophrenia that are inaccurate for most people who suffer from it, and Peterson does a fantastic job of portraying the human side of this illness. For example, William’s friend Rod assumes Penelope is unpredictable, violent, and paranoid, although we can see clearly from her narration that she is none of those things. She is scared, sad, and deeply caring. Reading about her mental degradation and struggles with her self-worth was really affecting, and this book made me want to be more empathetic toward people suffering from mental illness.

I also really liked the way Peterson depicts Oliver’s grief and lets his story unfold. When the story begins, we know that his wife and son are dead and that he feels responsible, but we do not know how they died. Oliver is completely uncommunicative and refuses to speak about his feelings. It’s not until he is ready to talk about what happened that we learn the truth. I thought it was fitting that the reader doesn’t learn what happened until Oliver is able to verbalize it.

I would have liked to see more backstory about Oliver and Penelope; their struggles in the behavioral health center are vivid, but I wanted to know more about what they were like before their troubles began. Oliver has flashbacks to life with his wife and son, and William conveys that Penelope used to be lively and work in advertising, but I think learning more about their personalities and day-to-day life before everything changed would have helped me relate to them.

I have an attraction to mental illness stories (see my love affair with The Bell Jar), and I would recommend this book to other people who are interested in this topic. Leave of Absence is a compassionate depiction of grief and schizophrenia that conveys how important love and support are for people who are suffering.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


17 thoughts on “Book Review: Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson

  1. Leah, thank you for reading and reviewing Leave of Absence. I am so pleased with your thoughts about the book, and I love the detailed nature of your review. I appreciate your honest evaluation and all of the comments you made. And thanks to the readers of your awesome blog, too. I really am grateful when people take a moment of their time to read about Leave of Absence!!

  2. I really enjoyed this book, too. I think that it was so interesting how Oliver and Penelope were able to bond, and even though Oliver was in such a dark place, that he wanted to be friends with Penelope.

    Were you nervous at the end of the book? I almost thought he was going to do that thing!!!! I got kind of nervous!!!

    • I was nervous too! I had some issues with this one but the subject matter was compelling as can be.

        • I felt that way a little bit when I read it, but I don’t know if I was just being cynical. Peterson has a background in counseling, and it seems like her experience has greatly informed her writing, so I’m curious about how common supportive partners like William are.

  3. Sounds great, but apart from The Bell Jar I don’t have really good experiences reading about mental illnesses. I think it’s a very interesting field, but I can only tolerate those kind of plots in movies and in crime fiction.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one and I think your interest in psychology will eventually pay off in real life. But really, you need to read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood 😉

    • I’ve read Alias Grace! I didn’t review it, though, because I found that I didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as you do.

  4. I’ve been seeing good reviews on this one, from Rebecca, Jennifer and now you. It is definitely an interesting topic, and I might read it! (I can’t however add anything to my TBR this year – I promised myself 🙂 )

    • I keep telling myself I can’t add anything to my TBR shelf — and then I somehow find myself in the bargain section on Barnes & Noble with my arms full of books. I admire your restraint!

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s