Gayle Forman, best selling YA author (If I Stay , Where She Went ) ,delves for the first time into adult fiction with her new novel, Leave Me.
Maribeth Klein has just experienced what is likely the scariest episode in her life. At forty, she’ s suffered from a life-altering heart attack, which has severely shifted the way she views her marriage, her family and her job. Maribeth starts to question what is truly important in her stress-filled existence. Her quandaries become even more complex when she finds herself at home recovering after getting discharged from the hospital, and realizes with shock that she’s viewed as a burden by her husband Jason and her twins.
Maribeth, not being able to stand her situation and the disregard shown to her, makes a decision. She decides to pack a bag and leave without telling her husband or children where she’s going in an extreme attempt to try and discover herself again and decide once and for all, what she truly wants.
Forman’s initial intentions with Maribeth’s abandonment of her family invite reflection. As the book’s blurb enticingly points out: “For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner.” But Maribeth’s solutions to her problems begin to seem far from introspective and turn instead rather infantile and careless. An inheritance helps her get to Pittsburg, where she rents a place under a fake name and begins to see a cardiologist who takes cash, as she is now almost obsessively wary of her newly discovered heart condition.
However, this is where Forman’s plot seems to delve into something a tad more superficial, and gathers an undeniably remnant quality of her young adult literature expertise. Maribeth decides to indulge into a flirtatious kiss-kiss but no bang relationship with her new cardiologist, who of course knows nothing about her marriage, her children, and her desertion of her former life.
She negates all contact with her family, and it’s only until we reach the mid-point of the novel that she finally decides to make contact with her husband using a burner phone, we assume so he can’t reach her or find out where she is. Her only self-searching endeavor results in finding out who her birth-mother was. However, that seems lost in view of her absurd attempt of an affair with Stephen, the cardiologist and her absurd frat-house style friendship with her new neighbors. Maribeth quizzically finds herself a surrogate family in her fake life, with her two young neighbors playing the part of her children, and Stephen adopting the role of the husband.
To Forman’s credit, Maribeth abruptly returns to her wits and begins to actually communicate with her husband Jason and airing out all the grievances, which is what perhaps should have been the initial starting point of her newly found introspection. It’s not that Maribeth is condemnable because she leaves her husband and children in the dust, but because it fails on the promise of Maribeth’s search for something more purposeful. The romantic interlude with Stephen seems completely unnecessary and doesn’t add anything to the story, except to reveal his own sad narrative which Forman could have done without engaging them into nonsensical lip-locking sessions.
The big finale is likewise a major let-down, giving the impression that a whole chapter must have been left out of the book by mistake. It ends with a phone call that brings no resolution, and we are left to wonder what the whole journey of Maribeth’s supposed self-discovery was truly about and if it actually happened at all.
Leave Me manages to accomplish one thing: it makes us feel confused and unsatisfied, waiting for a formidable story that never really makes it to the surface.