Monday, June 10, 2013

Leave of Absence Review & Author Interview

Hi guys! Today is the last day of my participating in the Leave of Absence Tour! It's been really fun and today I have my first ever author interview with Tanya J. Peterson AND my review of Leave of Absence. I'm really excited to share my thoughts with you guys. ^_^

Hollywood has stereotyped the schizophrenic. Prepare for your perceptions to be shattered. Penelope Baker grapples with schizophrenia. She has suffered losses, and her grief has deep and numerous shadows. Oliver Graham, utterly bereft, wrestles with guilt. He has suffered losses, and his grief has deep and numerous shadows. Leave of Absence unveils the complexity—and the humanity—underlying psychological struggles. 

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’s devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiance 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 dealing with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia. It has a place in the classrooms of counselor-educators, among support groups for those with mental illness and for their caregivers, and in the home of anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book isn't typical the type of book I read. I like to step outside my comfort zone, though. I'm glad I did. The story immediately got me hooked. It starts like the beginning of an action movie. A man about to jump off a tall building. We jump from the Police officers perspective to the suicidal man, Oliver. But it's not like "here's what I'm thinking and this is why I wanted to die." Nope. We really learn at the pace of the workers of the mental health treatment facility he is sent to. We learn piece by painful piece as the past flashes before Oliver and consumes him.

The poor man has dealt with tragedy. He's shattered. He makes a friend; a strong woman named Penelope. I really loved Penelope. She has schizophrenia. Depending upon how much you know about mental illness, you will have some altered opinions. I thought I pretty much knew more than the average person does about those sort of things and even I was surprised at some stuff. I guess it's more fitting to say I > learned > some things. And I like what I learned.

It's a very emotional book. It's a tearjerker. I cried, not always out of sadness. Sometimes out of grief, or relief. Either way it pulls your heart strings. There's something very honest and poignant about this story. The writing is magnificent. It was one of my favorite parts actually, besides the characters. Oh, and some characters will piss you off. I'm not going to spoil anything but I seriously wanted to SLAP Rod. Or kick him. Repeatedly. Lol. And I wanted to hug Oliver. Any book that can make me feel all these things is a winner.

(view spoiler)[Another great thing was the ending.  I thought it would end very tidy-- problems solved. Especially given the fact that both main characters had society-functioning and fulfilling roles before their illnesses took over. I was a little curious by this, by the way. I'm not sure if this was meant as a statement saying; hey, many of the people in mental institutions once had lives and careers-- and can continue to once they get the help they need. It's true, and I completely agree with it. I just hope the reader believes it. Oh, so back to the ending. It didn't end how I was half-dreading it to. I thought it would either end with Oliver dead, or a pretty pink bow with everyone back to a picture of health. I can't say how glad I am it didn't go either of those ways!!  (hide spoiler)]

Mental illness is devastating. Not just to those directly affected, but to their families too. I really like how the book shared a lot of William (Penelope's fiancée's perspective). It shows just how far the tendrils of illness reach when they touch those we love.

If you like contemporary fiction and emotional stories; you'll love this book. I am definitely going to be recommending it to my friends. I know you'll fall in love with Oliver and Penelope. 

1. Hi Tanya. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself as an author?
Hi, Diamond!  It’s really a pleasure to be here with you talking about Leave of Absence and the reasons I wrote it.  I usually am uncomfortable talking about myself, but with your questions, doing so helps me emphasize the message of Leave of Absence—even this first question about myself as an author does that!  I’m really glad to be an author.  I suppose it goes without saying that I love to write.  In fact, writing is the one thing I can do in which I experience flow.  I can get completely lost in what I’m doing, and any worries or anxieties fall off my radar for a while.  It’s a nice experience.  But I don’t just write to feel good.  I write because I want to make a difference.  I want to counter negative stereotypes and reduce the stigma that exists against mental illness and the people who experience it.  I think fiction can be a great way to increase understanding and empathy because fiction can provide characters that readers connect with on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one.  I guess I’m an author who wants to use writing as a way to make a difference.  

2. Describe yourself in 3 or 4 words.
Hmmmm… (Did that count as one??)  passionate, caring, understanding

3. What made you decide to write a book about mental illness?
I have a lot of experience with mental illness, both professionally as a Nationally Certified Counselor and personally as someone who has bipolar I disorder and struggles with anxiety.  I’ve both witnessed and experienced the consequences of stigma.  I think much of the stigma and negative judgments come not from intentional cruelty but from misunderstanding.  If people can see what mental illness is truly like and how it impacts people, rather than judging based on stereotypes in the media, they’ll have more empathy and compassion for people experiencing mental illness 

4. How do you get inside the head of a person with a mental illness? Or is it something that just came naturally after your work in the field?
Getting inside Penelope’s and Oliver’s heads was fun!  Well, perhaps “fun” isn’t quite the right description, as those poor characters really go through tough times.  It’s not fun that they have the experiences they do, but it was fun writing about it.  Their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors came very easily to me, perhaps because of the myriad experiences I have with mental illness.  My first in-depth exposure to the factual information came in graduate school, then using that knowledge while working with people in various capacities allowed me to apply the facts to real people.  Of course, having my own personal experiences with mental illness was very helpful, too.  Every disorder and every individual is unique, so there’s not one single way of experiencing mental illness.  Yet knowing the basics then getting to know my individual characters helped the ideas flow naturally.  I put myself in the heads of my characters and looked at everything from their perspectives.  It was an incredible experience, actually.  

5. Is there a reason you wrote Penelope and Oliver as being functioning members of society for most of their lives? Is this more common than people think?
I most definitely did this for a reason, and I’m so glad that you mentioned it.  Mental illness can often interfere in someone’s ability to work or otherwise be a functioning member of society.  In the story,Penelope is no longer working at the job she once loved, and her lifestyle has changed drastically because of schizophrenia. Oliver, too, functioned well in his life before tragedy struck.  This is quite typical.  Thanks in part to mainstream media (movies, television shows, news reports, etc.), a common conception (or, more accurately, misconception) of a mentally ill person is a “raging lunatic,” someone who is not nor has ever been capable of doing much of anything other than causing problems.  This is just incorrect.  Mental illness can derail someone, but this doesn’t mean that a person is worthless, was worthless, or will be worthless. 

6 Is Oliver based on an actual person? Where did his inspiration come from?
Like all the characters in LOA, Oliver is completely fictional.  He and Penelope developed at the same time I developed the theme (so before I ever began actually writing it).  I wanted to illustrate how schizophrenia, PTSD, and depression impact real human beings, and I wanted to highlight the healing power of human connection.  I started with Oliver (probably because as a reader I love character-driven stories with male characters I can bond with), and I knew that he’d be the character with PTSD and depression (well, Penelope experiences depression, too).  I also knew that he needed a reason, a story.  His story came to mind quickly, then Oliver became real to me and I was off and running with him.  I bonded with all of the characters in the story (except for the few closed-minded characters), but Oliver is my favorite.  J 

7. It was really hard for me to read about Oliver's mother and father-in-law; as well as Rod (friend of William). Tell us a little bit about why these characters were important to you.
Yeah, these are some of the close-minded characters to whom I referred in the last question.  I wanted to include these characters because they represent some very real attitudes faced by people experiencing mental illness.  As outlandish as it may seem, I do know people who would react like Oliver’s in-laws (I won’t say more and risk creating a spoiler), and Rod’s behavior is quite common.  These characters help show how damaging stigma really is.  Often, people aren’t harshly negative or stereotypical like these characters, but they don’t really know what people with mental illness can face.  Hopefully, these characters will increase awareness of the hurtful consequences of stigma.  

8. Impart your readers with one extra bit of knowledge or comment.
I’ll share the concepts I try to live by:  Gandhi’s advice to “be the change you want to see in the world,” and the idea Stephen Covey borrowed from St. Francis of Assisi, the directive to seek first to understand

Thanks so much Tanya! I really enjoyed Leave of Absence and can't thank you enough for joining me here on my blog!
It’s I who should be thanking you, Diamond!  I am so grateful to you for reading and reviewing Leave of absence and for interviewing me.  I’m honored that you’ve hosted me on your blog for so many things, giving your readers a preview of the book and of me before the review and interview.  I sincerely appreciate it, and I appreciate all of your readers, too, for checking out Leave of Absence and taking the time to learn a little about me and why I wrote the book!  
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(aka Dee) has loved reading for as long as she can remember. She loves many things: fantasy novels, young adult fiction, her cat, painting, and horror films from the 70s. Diamond is a grad student at UCLA. She's pursuing a Master's in Library and Information Science.