In Gayle Forman’s book Leave Me, Maribeth is an overstressed working mom. She’s got twin 7-year-olds, works as an editor at a Manhattan magazine and juggles home responsibilities like a circus performer spinning plates. The pain in her chest is not that bad — maybe she’ll have it checked out at her scheduled ob/gyn appointment.
The pain turns out to be a heart attack. Maribeth is whisked to hospital where emergency open heart surgery is performed. She nearly dies.
Naturally Maribeth’s whole world is rocked off balance. She is confined to home, can’t go to work, can’t take care of her children, and as a result she doesn’t know who she is. It also turns out that Maribeth was adopted as an infant and while she had never wanted to find out who her biological mother was, she discovers it’s now an important missing puzzle piece to her new life post-heart attack.
Questioning her relationship to her job, husband, kids and mother(s), Maribeth leaves her home without telling anyone where she is going in order to find herself and her balance once again. She moves into an apartment and has no contact with her family or friends.
We are supposed to feel empowerment for Maribeth. She is the typical “I can do it all” woman who eventually discovers that she is stronger when she accepts help. However, it’s difficult to warm up to her when she’s so angry about being adopted but then simply abandons her own children (who are old enough to know that mommy is gone).
Maribeth finds a new cardiac doctor, meets new friends and writes nightly letters (which she doesn’t send) to her children. It takes her weeks just to email her husband and let him know that she’s OK. I am supposed to be cheering Maribeth on in her quest for self-discovery.
But I can’t.
Trying to find yourself doesn’t need to be so hurtful to others or so selfish. And of course, the children — how could she have put her needs so much in front of theirs? I understand that there must be conflict in a story, but it has to be believable conflict. It is very difficult to like this main character and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m bumping up against the “mothers don’t leave their children” or the “people don’t have to be so selfish” schools of thought.
Perhaps it’s both.
Between her reaction to her heart attack (slow down, you move too fast) and her wanting to resolve her feelings about her adoption (which she had never been interested in before), jealousy in a married friend who is childless, and the fact that she’s falling for her new doctor, well, it just seems like a bit much. I can see how the themes could conceptually work together, but I don’t think they really do in this book. It comes across as a hodgepodge of contrived concepts instead of a well-woven story.
Predictably, as Maribeth heals and gets stronger (and realizes who she really loves, finds her biological mother and learns how to swim!) she discovers her priorities in life. Nice clean ending for a complicated situation.
This isn’t to say that the book is not enjoyable. Forman is a good writer. Her last book, If I Stay, was a New York Times Best Seller. The book uses various formats — emails and reports — to break up the text, and her dialog is good. Chapters are short and the pace is brisk. It’s not a bad book if you don’t delve in too deeply.
I wanted to like this book. I love stories about women regaining power, and this one seemed to be on the right track. But I’m not sure that women have to forsake everyone and everything in order to find their inner strength. C
— Wendy E.N. Thomas