Thursday, 13 November 2014

Five Days Left

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Putnam Adult
First Published: September 2014
First Lines: "Mara had chosen the method long ago: pills, vodka and carbon monoxide."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go. 

My Review:  Have you ever finished a book and needed time to digest it afterwards?  A book that has made you think?  A book that has ravaged you emotionally so that you're in shock afterwards?

This book did that to me.

Five Days Left was a glimpse into the private lives of two families as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that there are things in their lives that they cannot control.  While both story lines were weaved together well, it was Mara's story that was at the forefront.  Not that Scott's decisions were less important, just different.  I'm glad that his story intersected with Mara's because if the entire story was about her I think it would have been too much for me to bear.

Going into the book I thought I had it figured out.  I knew that it would be an emotional read just from glancing at the book jacket but I didn't predict that it would make me think so much about the two issues that were raised involving suicide and foster parenting.  My hats off to Ms Lawson Timmer for her ability to make me see both sides of these highly sensitive issues.  At the end of the book I was left not knowing how I would have handled myself in a similar situations. This book made me think and feel.  And I loved it.

In Mara's case, where she's suffering from a debilitating and devastating disease, it had me thinking about what my initial reaction would be if I saw someone stumbling (or worse) at the food store.  Would I automatically assume it was due to an incurable disease?  Or would I assume that the person was drunk?  How would I have handled the situation if I was in Mara's unfortunate shoes?  

The characters truly brought this book to a whole different level for me.  They were believable and their relationships to each other were perfectly written.  I loved Mara's relationship with her parents, her daughter and husband.  I also loved Laurie's conflicting issues with Scott and how they figured out their future as a family.  Even the secondary characters, like Mara's parents and Harry, the cabbie, were well fleshed out and felt authentic and important to the story.  Add into the fact that I loved the author's voice from the beginning and you can see why I got so involved into this book. It was riveting from beginning to end.

One of the most important things that I will take away from this book is that I was educated on the devastating physical and emotional effects of Huntington's Disease.  I could feel Mara's humiliation as she struggled with the increasingly embarrassing results of the degenerative disease that was taking over her life.  I could also understand her desire to not wanting her family to watch her suffer and deal with the pain of caring for all of her needs in the near future.  But I also didn't want her to end her life.  Mara's options were portrayed so well that honestly didn't know what her decision would be until the I finished the book. 

Not everyone will agree with the decisions that were made in this book -- and that's okay. People will react differently to this book and, for that reason, I think that this book would make an excellent choice for a book club.  I think that everyone who reads this book will be on the edge of their seats wondering what Mara's choice will be because there are no simple answers.  

This was an exceptional book for me but if pressed to give a suggestion to improve it I'd have to say that I would have loved to have had the viewpoints of some of the secondary characters (like like Laurie and Tom, Mara's husband or even Harry).  Even if it was only within an epilogue, their input would have helped to give me a better understanding of their struggles and fears.

This was an exceptionally good debut from a new Canadian author.  It was powerful and poignant and covered a lot of emotional ground.  From biological versus non-biological children, sacrifice versus suicide, terminal illness, depending on strangers versus turning to family for emotional support ...  This book has a lot packed into it but I love that the author doesn't try to give the reader the answers.  Honestly, I don't think there is one definitive answer.  Instead, Lawson Timmer gives the reader different views of these two emotional decisions and allows them to come up with their own conclusions. I think that this is one of the aspects of the book that impressed me the most.  

This was a home run for me.  The characters were beautifully and realistically portrayed. The plot kept me at the edge of my seat as it dealt with serious issues without pity but with sympathy and respect.  The author's ability to weave two different stories together was seamless and I loved how she incorporated all kinds of family relationships and dynamics. And, last but not least, her talent for writing an emotional read (to the point when I'm crying with a huge lump in my throat and my dog is looking at me like I'm crazy) is unparalleled. Needless to say, I'm very eager to see what future literary gems she will produce.

Highly recommended. 

My Rating: 5/5 stars

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