"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson

Leave of Absence 
Author: Tanya J. Peterson 
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Published:  2013
Pages: 327
ISBN: 978-1-59299-883-8
Source:  an advanced reader's copy was provided by Ink Water Press in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Availability: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Inkwaterbooks.com, Powells.com, iTunes, Kobo.com 

An empathic and honest portrayal of human beings stripped to their core and made to redefine reality and themselves, Leave of Absence reveals the emotional latticework of those suffering from mental illness, as well as the lives they touch. In this insightful and meaningful novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, and proves that fiction can act as a powerful vessel for conveying basic human truths.

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 a stirring depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.  (from the press release)

My Thoughts

May 4/13 - At about the half-way mark of Leave of Absence I set aside the novel to take a few moments here to write about my experience reading this touching story.  With red-rimmed puffy eyes, my emotions are definitely heightened, learning of Oliver's story and what brought him to this point of his life.  When a story is so well told that the reader, from chapter one, experiences such an emotional connection with the characters therein, I have to say the author has achieved what some cannot....that sought after but not easily accomplished connection that draws the reader in to the lives of the characters, making them come alive and their emotions mirrored within the reader.  That, thus far, is what Tanya J. Peterson has done in Leave of Absence.  I am empathizing with Oliver and Penelope and William;  I have cried, I have smiled,  I feel of them.  Leave of Absence is powerfully written.

"Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better."

Oliver's depression and post-traumatic stress disorder stem from the devastating deaths of his wife and three year old son.  A depression so deep that it has taken away all desire to live and replaced it with a yearning to end his life so he might be with them again has overwhelmed Oliver.   Faced with survivor's guilt as well....if only he'd gone to the park with them, then he could have saved them....was a common thread of thought Oliver experienced.  His entire world had capsized and he could find no reason to carry on.

Enter Airhaven Behavioral Health Center, the facility to which Oliver is taken after surviving his suicide attempt.  Here he meets Penelope, a fellow patient who was  diagnosed with schizophrenia two years previous, and her fiancé William (the most supportive fiancé one could possibly imagine).  Seeing Penny ostracized even among fellow mental health patients is unthinkable to Oliver and he quickly befriends her.  The friendship between the two creates a healthy support network for each, a highly desirable and necessary "tool" in coping and healing.  

Truly it is rare when a book comes along with a story that addresses issues of mental health and does so in such a manner that the reader is immediately drawn in, involving them through their emotional responses to the situations and especially to the characters themselves.  Leave of Absence is that rare book.  As noted from my entry above, I totally empathized with each individual within. Tanya J. Peterson narrates in the third person but it is as if Oliver, William and Penelope tell their own story.  Their perspectives are unique and compelling.

The issues of mental health, just like any other illness of the body, represent a daily challenge but there are treatments to help the individuals live their lives.  It is the author's hope, and mine, that books like Leave of Absence will help to remove the stigma attached to mental illness.  This novel serves to broaden the mind, so to speak, to erase previous notions of "crazy" and "dangerous" as associated with the varying illnesses associated with the mind.  It is Tanya's expertise in the field of mental health counselling that gives Leave of Absence validity.  Her talent as a writer, and her obvious compassion, breathes life into her characters and creates a kinship between them and the reader.  

Oliver's and Penelope's stories touched my very core.  I could not put Leave of Absence down.  Leave of Absence is one book that I would highly recommend as a means of understanding and building compassion and empathy for those stricken with mental illness, and for those who love and/or treat them.

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. Her previous titles include Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship. To learn more, visit www.tanyajpeterson.com


  1. I'm glad Mental Illness isn't such a taboo subject these days. We've tended to brush this under the rug. This sounds like a powerful book.

  2. Hi Shirley! This time it was you who made me cry. Thank you for this powerful review. You have described well what I hoped to do with Leave of Absence, and for that I am so grateful. Of course I would have been grateful that you read and reviewed Leave of Absence no matter what your opinion of it was, but that you were so moved is the sweetest icing on the cake (chocolate icing on chocolate cake!).

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you for posting about this book :)

  4. Shirley, thanks for popping over to add this to the collection. Cheers

  5. FABULOUS post...nice blog. THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved May Edition. I am in the list as #36.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry


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