Review: Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

five-days-left“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.” – Goodreads

Mara Nichols and Scott Coffman are close friends – who have never met. Both are members of an online group message board for adoptive and foster parents; all members are anonymous, sharing only their screen names. While there is a close group dynamic, Scott and Mara have used private messaging to grow closer and to share the more intimate details of their current situations.

Mara, however, is leaving something unsaid. She has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease – a debilitating, hereditary, and fatal brain disorder, for which there is no cure. In just a few short years, Mara’s mind and body have undergone unimaginable changes and she is destined for more and more changes and indignities as she declines toward her death. Mara makes a grave decision: to end her life now, before that happens, to spare herself, her husband, and most of all her five-year-old adopted daughter the pain and horror of that experience. She marks her birthday – five days from now – as the day she will leave this earth.

Scott and his wife have been the guardians of an eight-year-old boy, Curtis, for the past year. While he and his wife are currently expecting their first child, Scott wants more than anything for Curtis to stay with the family; his wife is not agreeable to that arrangement. Not that it matters, however, because Curtis’s mother – who has just finished serving a one-year prison sentence – will be reclaiming her parental rights, and Curtis will be leaving the Coffman home in just five short days.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer follows Scott and Mara through the final five days of their respective journeys. While there seems to be little in common with the two stories on the surface, the love and affection that both Mara and Scott show to the loved ones in their life bind the two together. There is also somewhat of a side story about nontraditional parenting – adoptive and foster parents, single parenting, etc. – that rounds the two sides out; this is the connection between the two that allows for both of their stories to be told together.

Mara’s story is truly the heart of this novel; its dark and shadowed side is one that will cause readers to truly feel Mara’s pain. Terminal illness, a death sentence, and suicide – Mara’s path is rocky and it is painful to follow her as she marches through the five days she has acknowledged will be her last. The story of Scott and Curtis, while evoking emotion, is much weaker by comparison – although death, it turns out, will touch each of the families in this novel.

Five Days Left brought many feelings to the surface for me. Grief, ambivalence, relief, and even joy were among the plethora of emotions that ran through me as I turned these pages. This novel definitely raised many “what-if” or “what would you do” questions for me, inspiring much afterthought when I finally closed the cover. Despite this, however, upon completion I found that the novel had not been as satisfying as one would have hoped. One thing is for sure: Five Days Left is certainly a novel you will need to experience for yourself.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer. Buy it, read it, love it.

3 stars

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Library

 

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