Inkwater Press: 3/28/2014
eBook review copy, 386 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 9781629010724
From the author of Leave of Absence comes another compelling tale of the human psyche.
A brilliant and talented man crippled by extreme anxiety and panic attacks, Brian has carefully crafted his world so that his interactions with others are severely limited. Although incapable of changing his situation, he discovers that, somehow, he is the only person seven-year-old Abigail can trust. Having bounced from one foster home to another, she has unexpectedly come to live with a childless uncle and aunt she has never known. For very different reasons, both Brian and Abigail are trapped in emotionally and socially isolated lives. Can they learn from each other?
When a book about a man with anxiety disorders has you sobbing multiple times in just the first few pages, you know the author has managed to capture some essential truth of the human condition and the book is something special. My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson is very highly recommended; very emotional, but worth every tear.
Brian Cunningham is 37 years old and works as the night custodian and information technology specialist at Hayden Elementary School. After 18 years of working at the same job, with the same man as the head, day time custodian, Brian is able to handle this job and his panic attacks because his contact with other people is limited. Brian not only suffers from anxiety disorders, and panic attacks, but he recently lost his best friend, his dog Oscar, so he is in mourning. Brian is isolated and full of anxiety daily.
When 7 year old Abigail Harris, a new student to the school, is found hiding in the janitor's mechanical room, she latches onto Brian as someone she can trust after the initial fright both of them experienced. Abigail has multiple problems of her own. She has been abused and lived in multiple foster homes. She is suffering from attachment issues and disorders.
When her immediate attachment to Brian is discovered by the principal and her uncle and aunt, Brian ends up being charged as watching Abigal after school until her uncle or aunt can arrive to take her home. The assignment gives Brian even more anxiety, but he finds himself able to relate to Abigail better than many of the other adults around her and help her.
The help for Brian comes in the form of Abigail and Dr. Greene, a therapist who Brian's mom contacts and makes an appointment for him. Even though he only sees her a few times in the book, those visits help give the reader an extra insight into therapy and how Brian may be helped to cope with life a bit easier.
Peterson is a mental health professional with a background in public education, so she brings a skill set to this novel that is incredible. She manages to capture what Brian, the narrator, is thinking and feeling as he tries to get through each day. It is heart breaking. She allows Brian to tell us what he is thinking and feeling in such an empathetic but realistic way that you can't help but want the best for him; want him to receive some kind of help. She also provides the background information on the origin of Brian's anxiety. While she may not be a technically gifted story teller, she has brilliantly captured the inner thought process of Brian so completely that any quibbles about the plot fall away. This is a great book.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Inkwater Press for review purposes.