A rich bridge of understanding
Review by Grady Harp
Leave of Absence is a novel that simply has it all. Beginning with a cover design by Emily Deuker utilizing Karam Miri’s ‘Missing One Chair’, Tanya J. Peterson writes a story that is a solid human interest novel, but at the same time it is a means to introduce her readers to begin to understand mental illness – those various maladies that separate reality from non-reality in the bruised synapses of people who have either inherited or have been induced into the bizarre chaos of a world that no longer makes sense by use of ill-advised medication, substance abuse, or most specifically and commonly, events so traumatic that thought processes are jumbled into an inescapable labyrinth.
Peterson comes to her writing gifts both as one who has experienced mental health issues with a bipolar I disorder and as an educator and a counselor who is Nationally Certified and has devoted her life to aiding homeless, runaway adolescents and patients with mental health malfunctions, both in one-on-one situations and as a speaker and mental health writer. Where she excels is in her ability to place on the written page the processes of thought disruption as viewed and spoken by the afflicted ones while at the same time offering insights into the techniques of mental health workers who assist their patients in returning to a life that once again is focused.
Her story opens with a suicide attempt by one Oliver Graham whose life has blurred since the loss of his wife and child and whose rescue is only partially thwarted by the assistance of Gregory Jacobi, a police suicide intervener, allowing Oliver to live and be transported to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center where he is gently nourished by members of the staff: the interchange of the sensitive assistance of the healthcare personnel is deftly described as is Oliver’s italicized staccato words both in this mind and spoken – a technique not seen before but one that allows the stage of the story to reveal equal insights between patient and caregiver. Also in Airhaven is a schizophrenic girl Penelope who believes she is under the biding of Eleanor Roosevelt: again the same manner of placing works on the page adds tremendous insight into the ways mentally challenged patients react to the confusing outer world. The story deals with how Oliver and Penelope engage and together begin the path toward functioning in the world they have found so intolerable and confusing.
Few writers have been able to express so sensitively the variations of thought processes that assault patients who are suffering from degrees of mental illness. Peterson creates a solid novel here but she also opens doors of understanding so rarely provided for the general public. Highly recommended.
Grady Harp, Sept 2013
TITLE: LEAVE OF ABSENCE
AUTHOR: TANYA J. PETERSON
PUBLISHER: INKWATER PRESS