Left Neglected is Lisa Genova's second book, again telling the story of a woman coping with a serious neurological problem. Thirty-seven year old Sarah Nickerson is VP of Human Resources at Berkley Consulting, which "offers strategic advice to companies all over the world in all industries". Her job is a pure stress, pressure cooker position in a company that is known for its premiere consulting work and high burnout and divorce rate among staff.
Sarah and her husband Bob, also a Harvard business grad, live in Welmont, a wealthy suburb of Boston and have three children, Charlie, Lucy and Linus (named after the Charlie Brown characters). Sarah's life is incredibly hectic, a combination of having to juggle 70 to 80 hour work weeks with the responsibility of raising three small children. But all that changes one morning on a rushed drive to work, when Sarah pulls out her cell phone and is involved in a serious single car accident. Sarah suffers trauma to the right side of her head. She awakens eight days later in ICU to discover that her brain does not recognize the left side of her body. She knows she has a left side but doesn't know where it is. Her brain ignores all sensory information that originates on the left side of her body.
At first Sarah believes that she will recover within two weeks and be back into the groove of her hectic life. She can't afford the time to be disabled. She enters therapy, first at the hospital and then at the Baldwin Rehabilitation Center. Instead of a fast recovery and a return to her crazy out of control life, Sarah begins to realize that this process will take more time than she might be willing to admit.
"The more therapy I have, the more I realize that this is not a math equation. No one will give me any guarantees. I might get better and I might not. The therapy might help, and it might not. I can work hard as I've always worked at everything I've ever done, and it might not be any more effective than just lying here and praying. I've been doing both."
As she works to rehabilitate herself, Sarah must also come to terms with her past and in particular with her broken relationship with her mother, who emotionally abandoned her when she was young. Sarah gradually learns to redefine her life, the nature of success and her priorities in life. What started out as an obstacle and a disability has become an opportunity for positive change and personal growth.
The title, Left Neglected has two meanings; referring both to a neurological disorder arising from the head injury that Sarah experiences and her emotional abandonment by her mother and father during her childhood.
There were many facets of this book I really loved. I enjoyed the overall writing style of the novel conveyed through the voice of Sarah, which was both engaging and genuine. Genova infused Sarah's voice with humour that lightened what could have been a very oppressive situation and added to the character of the book.
I felt that Left Neglected portrayed events in a realistic way, especially in contrasting Sarah's lifestyle before and after her accident, demonstrating how Sarah's disability impacted her life, it's effects on her relationship with her husband and children and how it changed the way she viewed others.
I was also thrilled to see Lisa Genova take on the issue of cell phone usage while driving. Where I live, talking on cell phone while driving is banned, yet hundreds of people still do this. It's easy to spot these people because these are the drivers who wander into the oncoming lane, drive too slow or can't make a turn properly. In Left Neglect, a momentary lapse of attention while fishing for a cell phone, changes Sarah's life forever.
Although I enjoyed Still Alice, I feel Genova's writing has continued to grow and that Left Neglected is more enjoyable and better written than the former. This is a great book that will appeal to older teens, book club participants and those who enjoy books about overcoming personal difficulties.
Below is a video in three parts of an interview with author Lisa Genova:
In the second interview, author Lisa Genova discusses the dreams Sarah has in the first part of the book and their significance in the story.
In the third part of the interview, Lisa talks about how another author who had self-published, Julia Fox Garrison, introduced her to a literary agent and then revealed a surprising piece of personal information that helped Lisa write Left Neglected.
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
New York: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)