Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received this book for free from First to Reaad, in exchange for an honest review.
I'm still recovering from this wonderful book, which is a tear jerker. It would be a great book club discussion book, to talk about the choices people make and ethical decisions they choose.
This book had me from the opening sentence, which I can't quote here since I read an advanced uncorrected proof (in which I found no typos or editing mistakes and wouldn't change a word, by the way). It is about Mara, a high-powered attorney, a wife and adoptive mother of Lakshmi from India (and Mara is herself adopted from India), who is diagnosed with a disease called Huntington's, which I never heard of before. It's a horrible, fatal disease. She's 4 years into it and her symptoms are worsening and she decides to commit suicide with pills, vodka and carbon monoxide poisoning on her birthday, 5 days from now, in order to spare her family. She is part of an online group, but she does not tell them about her disease or her decision. One of the members of the group is Scott, a teacher, who is expecting a baby girl with his wife, after several in-vitro attempts. They have been fostering an 8 year old boy for a year and a week, while his mother is in jail. He is the younger half-brother of one of Scott's former athletes, a basketball star he has mentored into college and who is an NBA hopeful. Their mother is getting out of jail in 5 days and wants her young son back. Scott is devastated, even though he expected this, and has planned five days of wonderful experiences with the boy. The book alternates with both main characters, Mara and Scott, and each of the 5 days in countdown.
Mara is determined to end her life in her way and in her time, and has a detailed list of everything she has to accomplish before she goes, including saying goodbye to people (without them guessing it's for good), to writing letters to her husband and daughter, to getting her two best friends to be there for her daughter whenever she needs a female to talk to, to making doctor appointments to her daughter for the next 18 months, to making lists for her husband of certain things. But then she rethinks her decision, wondering if staying around to the end, even when she ends up in a wheelchair, unable to do anything for herself or speak or recognize anyone, is better for her family than not being around at all, so she can listen to her daughter and let her husband care for her as he wants to do. She keeps waffling back and forth, and not until the end do we find out what she decides to do.
As for Scott, the boy's mother decides she doesn't want Scott to keep her son for the last 5 days, and wants him back immediately. Scott and his wife do not even get to say goodbye, as the boy is picked up from school that day. Then the boy's mother overdoses a day or two after getting him back, and dies, and his brother decides to drop out of college, give up his NBA dream, and raise his brother. All Scott can do is support the decision. His wife only agreed to keep the boy for the year as she does not want to adopt any child and only wants her own children and wants her life back for the last 3 months before her baby is born, as the boy is quite a handful. But then the brother has second thoughts about whether it's actually in his little brother's best interest if he were to raise him, rather than put him in foster care, where he can have two experienced parents to care for him. Again, it's not until the end of the book that we find out the outcome.
I found the book to be extremely well-written, and I predict that once word gets out about it, it will become a best seller. If The Fault in the Stars can be a big best seller, so can this book! I lost it when Mara goes to Laks' school to be a library monitor and falls down, causing the kids make fun of her and call her a drunk. Her daughter is mortified and just wants her mother to go home and never go outside again. And when Mara and her mother go through all of Mara's photo albums of her life, I lose it again. Mara has resisted all of her family's help and her disease causes her personality to change and she becomes mean about it. It isn't until an understanding taxi driver who starts taking her on her errands befriends her after she totals her car and can't drive anymore, that she starts to realize how quickly she is deteriorating and how much others truly want to help her. It's a beautiful story, very heart-wrenching and real. At times I did not like Mara because of her behavior and how she rationalized certain things in her mind, like how her husband would be better off without her and wouldn't want to take care of her when she got worse, and how her daughter would hate visiting her in a nursing home, and when she thought Lakshmi wouldn't miss her so much as she wasn't her real mother anyway and would easily bond with a new mother, when Mara's husband remarried, when I did not think she should project HER feelings on her family. And I did not always like Scott's wife as she selfishly only wanted her "own" biological family. I liked Tom, Mara's wonderful doctor husband, and her wonderful parents. And I liked Mara's friends, especially her secretary and best friend in the law firm of which she was a partner, who was extraordinary in how she helped "cover" Mara's deficiencies as her disease worsened. Everyone should be so lucky!
In a word, this is one of the best books I've read this year and I highly recommend it!! I wonder if the wonderful author will write a sequel?
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