Five Days Left - Julie Lawson Timmer

I was given an ARC of this to review through Penguin Books First Reads program. I didn't love it. I didn't know a lot about it going in, thought it might be what I call "mom lit.", which is not really my thing, but figured I'd try it anyway. You never know, right? The novel opens with the first line, "Mara had chosen the method long ago: pills, vodka, and carbon monoxide." and I thought, "Okay! Definitely not mom lit!" I thought I was going to go into this tense, taut story that would pull me right along til the end. The first few chapters sure felt that way, but after that it actually did veer into mom lit and never came back. At around the 50 page mark, I could feel the story starting to drag for me, some of the descriptions running a little long. I think the story could have been more impactful if it had been written with a more terse quality. After reading 91 pages, I was surprised to see the story was only at "4 days left". Seriously! Damn near 100 pages is only 1 day?! The whole book is only just over 350! But I stuck with it, thinking it might just have a rocky start.

This story reads like a highlights reel of the kind of sad domestic stories Lifetime movies are made of -- terminal illness, suicide, drug addiction, struggles of foster parenting & IVF treatments. Mara, dying of Huntington's disease, decides she's going to kill herself before the final stage of the disease sets in. The story starts five days from the date she chooses as her last day of life. Meanwhile, there is a parallel story of foster parents Scott & Laurie, who are also expecting their first biological child. Scott is very attached to Curtis, the little boy he is fostering, while Laurie, though she does like Curtis, is ready to have the house back to just her, her husband and the baby. Scott and Mara (who has an adopted daughter) know each other from an online forum for foster, adoptive and single parents. Scott discovers he has five days left until he has to give Curtis back to the birth mother, a drug addict in and out of jail. 

I liked the couples at first but as the story progressed, the relationships seemed to suffer more and more from selfish behavior. I ended up not really liking anyone by story's end... except maybe Mara's husband Tom -- he seemed like he was REALLY trying to be a good guy. Terminal illness or no, I didn't really find Mara to be that likeable. I could understand her frustrations with her situation, how she might snap from time to time but the pity-party-FML-woe-is-me theme was damn near non-stop! I REALLY didn't like her after the note she leaves her husband saying "please allow yourself to be relieved... and know that when you finally do, my soul will finally be freed." WTF?! I couldn't imagine leaving my husband with such a shitty sentiment, essentially dismissing his love. Maybe he's not relieved, maybe he honestly felt his vows! Another problem I had with the story -- there were a number of situations & conversations that just didn't strike me as believable. 

I DID like the relationship between Scott and his foster child, Curtis. I found their conversations and interactions really cute and sweet. But overall, this one was just a little heavy-handed with the maudlin sauce for me.