Reviewed by Alysia George

Five Days Left, by Julie Lawson Timmer, tells the parallel stories of two individuals and the very different meaning that “five days left” has for each of them. Anonymous friends in an online chat group for non-traditional families, Mara and Scott are both living with a time bomb. In just five days, each of their lives is going to change forever. And in those five days, both have to decide whether their love for others means they have to let go or have to fight harder to hold on.

Mara found her way into the group when she and her husband adopted a baby from India. A proud workaholic lawyer, Mara always managed to squeeze in time for her friends from the internet community she had grown to love. Although the rule of the group was never to share real names, they had grown close over the years. As familiar as they were to Mara, however, she chose not to burden them with the biggest struggle of her life: a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative and fatal illness that affects muscle movement, mood, and cognitive abilities, and for which there is no cure.

Across the country, Scott is dealing with a tumultuous situation of his own. An inner-city teacher, he became part of the online community when he and his wife agreed to be temporary legal guardians for one year of a younger sibling of one of Scott’s former students whose mother is in prison. The year is almost up, and Scott is devastated at the thought of giving this little boy back to a mother who likely will not take proper care of her child.

While Scott has five days left with the boy he has come to think of as a son, Mara has decided the time has come to cut her losses–in just five days. She is determined to keep a deal she made with herself to end her life when her symptoms become too oppressive, to save her family from the inconvenience of caring for her when she can no longer care for herself.

What Scott and Mara don’t realize is that in five days a lot can happen – enough to possibly set them on paths they hadn’t dared imagine.

Heartbreaking and touching, Five Days Left is a beautiful telling of the struggles of two friends. As a reader, I keenly felt their disappointments and heartaches, at times wishing to change their minds (or the minds of their spouses) or to reach through the pages and offer them a hug or a shoulder to cry on. A true glimpse into the hearts and minds of people dealing with issues miles away from my own, this book is a lesson in empathy and understanding. The rich character development and realistic story-telling makes this is a book I strongly recommend.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Putnam Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.