“Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.
Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.”
Thoughts: There is so much depth to Five Days Left that it is difficult to capture everything vital in a few short paragraphs. Both Scott and Mara are in the process of undergoing a radical change in their lives, and while a terminal illness and the loss of a foster child may not seem like they would have much in common, it is the love and affection they shower on others that makes them more similar than dissimilar. There is also an important side story about nontraditional parenting and some of the issues unique to nonbiological parents. It is this connection that truly binds Scott and Mara together, allowing for both stories to be told concurrently while also sharing a fabulous lesson about the need to open hearts and minds to other forms of relationships.
In many ways, Scott’s story is the palate cleanser to Mara’s very painful and highly emotional one. While the novel needs this, because to read about Mara’s struggles nonstop would be a bit too much to bear, it does not mean that Scott’s story is any less important to the message Ms. Lawson Timmer is trying to make. Sometimes, good people are put into horrible situations, and it is how they react to those situations that shows their true mettle. Such is true of Scott when he must let go of his foster son sooner than expected and then receives tragic news that could be the undoing of both his marriage and the hopes and dreams of his young ward as well as that of his protege older brother.
That being said, Mara’s story is the heart and the soul of the novel and the one part of the story that will make readers pause and reflect. Mara’s diagnosis and decline, which readers get to experience firsthand just as Mara does, is every bit as tragic and horrifying as one would imagine. Her decision to save her family from years of caregiving and to save her own dignity is at once understandable, terrifying, gut-wrenching, and controversial. Not every reader will agree with her decision and may well turn the book aside in disgust. However, no matter how strongly one feels about her decision, all readers will read with increasing concern whether she will commence with her plan or falter at the end. There are simply no easy answers to any of her problems; Therein lies the power and the drama of the novel.
Sacrifice and suicide, terminal illnesses and a long-term death sentence, biological versus nonbiological children, anonymous sharing to familial secrecy – Five Days Left covers it all. More importantly, it does not try to leave readers with definitive answers but rather allows readers to form their own opinions – something that must happen given a reader’s unique family history, individual belief systems and core values, and other personal experiences. It leaves room for all opinions while simultaneously reaching out to readers to empathize with Mara and scott before leveling judgement. That is one of the most important lessons of all.
Some novels leave readers sobbing with grief. Others leave readers pensive and full of what-if questions. Five Days Left will leave readers doing both. This should in no way intimidate readers from starting this amazing novel about love, sacrifice, and the differences between selfishness and selflessness. If anything, it is an indication of how profoundly well-written the story is to capture a reader’s heart and mind so thoroughly. In other words, it is a novel that everyone should experience.