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Author: Gayle Forman
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Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: September 6th 2016
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Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention--meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.
Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: she packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves.
With bighearted characters--husbands, wives, friends, and lovers--who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?
Review: Leave Me by Gayle Forman
Leave Me by Gayle Forman. Whoa.
So I feel like I should preface this review by saying that Gayle Forman is my favorite author. Just One Day is my all-time favorite YA book, and it changed my life. To say I had high expectations for Leave Me, her first adult book, is an understatement.
That said, going in, I already had some reservations about the main character, Maribeth, who decides to leave her family after a heart attack. I just couldn’t imagine myself being able to relate to that or feeling that desperate in my life that I would need to do that.
Is it any surprise that I was wrong?
One of the things Gayle Forman does so well is crystallize how the little, mundane moments in our lives make a difference. And in her YA books, I feel like she illuminates just how precious each moment is. But in Leave Me, she pushes us further, bringing to light not just the good moments, but also those long, dark, frustrating days when you’re juggling a lot, when your kids have lice and they’re screaming and nothing you do seems to be working or right.
I related to these moments, even without kids. I felt them. I’ve lived those days. So have you. And all of that on top of a healing process that’s not really working? I got it. I understood why Maribeth felt like she needed to leave.
Like Maribeth, I’m a perfectionist. This is a woman obsessed with being good at things: being a good mom, a good editor, a good friend. She’s done everything right in life. And it’s led to her having a heart attack and feeling more underappreciated and frustrated than before.
That said, I don’t think everyone is going to feel like Maribeth should have left, deserved to leave, or was in the right to leave. And the great thing about this book is that you don’t have to. There’s more to the book than this.
Leave Me was a surprising read because once Maribeth left, I think I expected her to take a road trip, to wander aimlessly for a bit. Instead, Maribeth ends up in another town, but with a real purpose that becomes more and more the driver of the story. While I don’t feel like this thread was as strongly woven as it could have been – there are moments when the narrative seems to wander pretty far from its intended purpose – for me, Maribeth’s soul-searching and self- discovery were so honest and delightful that I didn’t care. The little moments, the people she meets – I loved how much they became part of her, even if they didn’t move the plot a lot.
Along with the theme feeling a little stifled, I also felt like the ending wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking. View Spoiler »I would have liked to see what happened after Maribeth got back, whether she kept in touch with her Pittsburgh friends, whether she and Elizabeth grow close again – heck even whether she goes back to work. But Forman has always been a fan of open- ended conclusions, so I suppose I’ll have to draw my own conclusions. « Hide Spoiler
Overall, I think this was a wonderful first adult novel for Forman; I liked both the concept and most of the execution. And if there’s one thing Forman is great at, it’s making you remember and feel just how precious and wonderful each moment is. Like all Gayle Forman books, this one made me feel more, love harder, and want to leap farther than ever before.
Found Families: Part of the reason I think Forman speaks to me so much as a writer is her ability to create characters who are lost and come together from all paths of life. Maribeth’s journey brings her to a place where she meets good-hearted people who are younger and older, who have suffered and lost, and who, like her, are just trying to make it through the day sometimes. And it’s only by coming together as a family that they can learn and grow.
Realistic Romance: There is a romance here, though it may not seem like it. It’s one borne of deep love and commitment and recognition of getting older and the mundane things getting in the way. It’s not the romance that you dream of, but it’s one that still had my heart full at the end.
YA Easter Eggs: For readers of Gayle’s YA fiction, there are some cute call-out for us. And they’re delightful when you find them!
Quote-tastic Moments: As always, Gayle Forman brings it in terms of quoteable moments that make you think:
“And Liv, you said, “At school, we learned the blue whale has a heart so big you can walk through it.” And Oscar, you said, “I want to walk through someone’s heart.” And I squeezed your hands and said, “You already walk through mine.”
Book Theme Song:
“A year ago, so much uncertainty would’ve killed her. Her lists, her plans–they were her parachute, the thing to keep her from total free fall.
She was in free fall now. And it wasn’t killing her. In fact, she was beginning to wonder if she might’ve had it backwards. All that fixating on the fall…maybe she should’ve been paying more attention to the free.”
Sleep on the Floor by The Lumineers
The lyrics don’t totally scan, but I feel like this song and its mood really get to the heart of Leave Me.
Pack yourself a toothbrush dear
Pack yourself a favorite blouse
Take a withdrawal slip, take all of your savings out
‘Cause if we don’t leave this town
We might never make it out
I was not born to drown, baby come on
If the sun don’t shine on me today
And if the subways flood and bridges break
Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave
Or will you rail against your dying day
The Final Word:
Leave Me by Gayle Forman is an excellent first adult novel: one that explores and mines the heart, both internally and externally. While I had initial qualms about my ability to connect with protagonist Maribeth’s conflict, I shouldn’t have doubted. Forman pulled me through – nay, delighted, examined and guided me through the difficult parts of this book. Leave Me shines with Forman’s signature spare prose, observant eye, and belief in love and humankind, while adding both the darkness and wisdom that only comes with years of learning and living.
Recommended for: people who love emotional reads, mothers, daughters, people who want a realistic relationship story, people who believe in all kinds of love and their healing power.
LEAVE ME comes out on Tuesday, September 6. Will you be reading it and grabbing a copy immediately? How do you feel about the premise? Have you read any of Gayle’s other work (if not, what are you waiting for?)? Let me know in the comments!