I read Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer for a book club that I belong to. I actually read a galley copy because a woman in my club knows the author somehow, but the book has been published, so you should all be able to get a hold of it even without connections. :)
For starters, I'd like to point out the blurb on the front cover. It was written by Jodi Picoult and reads, "... this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented author." I wholeheartedly agree. Julie Lawson Timmer is AWESOME. If I could write like her, I wouldn't need my 40x40 list to challenge me to write a novel. I would just churn one out because the inside of my head was bursting with awesome stories that had to be told. I hope to see many, many more novels by Julie Lawson Timmer. Secondly, I have no idea how a new author managed to get an endorsement from Jodi Picoult, but she was the PERFECT choice. Anyone who likes Jodi Picoult's books will love Five Days Left. No, there are no dead children in Five Days Left (my friend Andrea claims that at least one child dies in every Jodi Picoult novel), but there are a few lawyers (although they don't figure as heavily into the story as they usually do into Picoult's) and the beautiful writing style is very similar. So if you're a Picoult fan but are searching for something fresh, I'd highly recommend Five Days Left.
This novel really tells two stories. While the stories run parallel to each other, they only touch each other briefly. Before reading it, I didn't really understand how Timmer was going to make that work, but she pulls it off beautifully.
Story #1: Mara Nichols has been highly driven and successful all her life. She has set goals for herself and achieved them. She has been wildly successful at everything she has set her mind to. But now her career as an attorney has come to a premature end. Everything, it seems, is coming to an end. Because four years ago, she was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, and she can't seem to fight it any longer. She's losing control of her body. She's no fool. She knows how she will waste away for years to come as a result of the disease, until she no longer even knows who she is, a vegetable left in wasted skin. She doesn't want that, not for herself or for her husband Tom or their precious adopted daughter, Lakshmi, age 5. She doesn't ever want Laks to be ashamed of her. So Mara summons her courage to achieve one last unthinkable goal, motivated by her love for her family.
Story #2: Scott Coffman is a middle school teacher and basketball coach. He and his wife Laurie have spent the last year fostering an 8-year-old boy named Curtis while his biological mother has been in prison. Scott loves Curtis with all his heart and the idea of returning him to his mother is tearing him up. But Laurie is pregnant with their own much-anticipated first child, a girl, and is ready to get their own lives back. How can Scott can goodbye, especially when Curtis's mother keeps adding complications?
Scott and Mara don't know each other in real life, but they do occasionally "talk" online on a website designed for nontraditional families. This is how the two stories intersect, and while it's a tenuous tie, it absolutely works in Timmer's hands. The novel counts down from five days to zero as both Mara and Scott struggle with the time that is left with their loved ones, both wondering if they can cheat fate to get more. This book does a beautiful job illustrating the power of family, even in its nontraditional forms. I highly recommend it and will be looking for more from Julie Lawson Timmer!