Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mandy Reviews: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

ISBN #: 978-1439164655
Page Count: 322
Copyright: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Gallery Books

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Sarah Nickerson, like any other working mom, is busy trying to have it all. One morning while racing to work and distracted by her cell phone, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled life come to a screeching halt. After a brain injury steals her awareness of everything on her left side, Sarah must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole. In so doing, she also learns how to pay attention to the people and parts of her life that matter most.

In this powerful and poignant New York Times bestseller, Lisa Genova explores what can happen when we are forced to change our perception of everything around us. Left Neglected is an unforgettable story about finding abundance in the most difficult of circumstances, learning to pay attention to the details, and nourishing what truly matters.

Mandy's Review:

I'm not sure where to begin ... So ... perhaps the beginning?

The prologue to this novel is one of the best that I've read in quite some time. It's only one page, but it sets the tone for the entire novel. It's personal, witty and real ... alarmingly so. With the prologue, the reader is already entranced with Sarah; her personality, her life, her circumstances. I loved it.

Enough gushing about the prologue. Let's get to the meat of the novel.

Sarah is wife of Bob and mother to three children: Charlie, Lucy and Linus. Sarah and Bob are those parents who have a nanny coming to take care of their children most of the afternoon while they're working. They're the type of parents who have to check their respective schedules to figure out who can go to a child's game and when they have a free day to meet with a child's teacher. Every time there's a spare minute to be had, Sarah's on her cell phone calling someone or checking/responding to emails. She even does this while driving.

One day, thankfully, Bob takes the children to school and Sarah leaves for work on her own. Her mind is on her work, which has her looking at her cell phone. She doesn't realize traffic has stopped, until she glances up at the last minute. She stomps on the brakes, but the roads are wet from recent rains. She flips the vehicle sustaining injuries to her head.

Eight days later, Sarah wakes up in a hospital ICU. She feels normal, just a little soreness from the accident. Then she's told she has a rare mental condition called Left Neglect. It's a condition that can occur when the right hemisphere of the brain has sustained injuries. The mind doesn't recognize the left side of anything, yet the person with this defect feels totally normal. They feel as if they're seeing the whole of something when they're really only seeing the right side of the thing. The best way to describe this condition is with a passage from the book between Bob and Sarah (Chapter 11):

   "Can you see me now?" asks Bob.
   I see the prison, the window, the visitor's chair, the TV.
   "No," I say.
   "Turn your head."
   I turn my head. I see the prison.
   "No, the other way."
   "There is no other way."
   "Yes, there is. Turn your head to the left. I'm standing over here."
   I close my eyes and imagine Bob standing. In my mind's eye, he's wearing a black, long-sleeve, crewneck tee and jeans, even though he never wears jeans to work. He's got his arms folded, and he hasn't shaved. I open my eyes and turn my head. I see the prison.
   "I can't."
   "Yes, you can. It's simple."
   "It's not."
   "I don't understand why you can't just turn your head."
   "I did."
   "To the left."
   "There is no left."
   I hear him sigh in frustration.
   "Honey, tell me everything you see in here," I say.
   "You, the bed, the window, the chair, the table, the flowers, the cards, the pictures of me and the kids, the bathroom, the door, the television."
   "Is that everything?"
   "Pretty much."
   "Okay, now what if I told you that everything you see is only half of everything that's really here? What if I told you to turn your head and look at the other half? Where would you look?"
He doesn't say anything. I wait. I imagine Bob standing in his tee-shirt and jeans, searching.
   "I don't know," he says.

Eventually, over time, Sarah and Bob adjust to her condition. Their lives change drastically, but for the better.

This book has become one of my favorites and Lisa Genova one of my favorite authors. Reading Sarah's story shows one that there is a reason for everything that happens. What may seem like a bad situation is really a catalyst for positive changes. Because of Sarah's accident and subsequent brain injury, she learned how to relate to her eldest son; she learned how to appreciate life for what it was; she found joy in the small things again. Her life became simpler. Her goals more family-oriented and realistic. And please don't think this is a situation that was created for the purposes of this novel:

Left Neglect, also known as unilateral neglect and hemispatial neglect, is a real neurological syndrome that occurs due to damage to the right hemisphere of the brain, such as might follow a right-hemisphere stroke, hemorrhage, or traumatic brain injury. - From the Author's Note in back of book

I really could go on and on about this book. Suffice it to say, I highly recommend this novel to any and all fiction lovers out there.

*A free paperback copy of this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

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