Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Review Copy via Author
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: From the author of Leave of Absence comes another compelling tale of the human psyche. A brilliant and talented man crippled by extreme anxiety and panic attacks, Brian has carefully crafted his world so that his interactions with others are severely limited. Although incapable of changing his situation, he discovers that, somehow, he is the only person seven-year-old Abigail can trust. Having bounced from one foster home to another, she has unexpectedly come to live with a childless uncle and aunt she has never known. For very different reasons, both Brian and Abigail are trapped in emotionally and socially isolated lives. Can they learn from each other?
Last May, I read and reviewed Tanya J. Peterson’s Leave of Absence and it became one of my favorite reads of 2013. When Peterson asked if I’d review My Life in a Nutshell, I couldn’t say no because she has a talent for writing characters struggling with a mental illness and making the reader understand their inner turmoil.
We have good character development. Our main character is Brian Cunningham, a brilliant man who is a school janitor and suffers from anxiety. You’ll easily come to love him and your heart breaks when he’s put in certain situations he has no interest in. Then we have an adorable girl named Abigail Harris who unfortunately hasn’t had the best life. She suffers from abandonment issues and easily attaches to herself people and when she gets into trouble she has a habit of throwing tantrums and lying. We also have several secondary characters that are important including Sammi and Hugh, both teachers at the elementary school. The real treat is Roger, a fellow janitor and I just really liked how he was there for Brian!
Narrative is first person via Brian and it makes sense since this is his story. I really liked the use of first person narrative because it brings his suffering from anxiety front and center. You see yourself in the same situations Brian finds himself in and you can understand his reluctance to participate. I believe readers will easily associate with Brian and we can see parts of ourselves in him. Peterson does a great job letting us feel his uneasiness and you can’t help but want him to succeed. When it comes to seven year old Abigail, a part of me wanted to grab her and spank her a few times, but then we’re given parts of her history and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Then reality hits, in real life some kid has experienced exactly what Abigail has gone through. I adored getting to know Abigail through Brian because he discovers aspects of himself he didn’t know he had.
What I liked about Peterson’s My Life in a Nutshell are the emotions she allowed to me experience but also let me understand a little more about anxiety. My sister suffers from it and has been diagnosed with agoraphobia. At times I just want to tell her to snap out of it and it’s all in her head, but Peterson has given me a little more insight and know that there’s more to it. Like Brian, my sister keeps quiet about her illness because she knows not everyone will understand. In fact, right now she’s trying to get the Department Chair and professors at the University she currently attends to recognize her illness as a disability so she’ll have a little wiggle-room to finish assignments. Peterson shows us Brian’s reluctance at talking to people about his anxiety. I kept wanting him to open up and just say something, but came to realize it’s a process. That’s what I like about Peterson’s writing. She lets us see the situation at hand and we can understand the character better as the story progresses.
Just a quick note: there’s a bit of surprise at the end of My Life is a Nutshell and while I was shipping a different couple, I was happy to see who gets the girl in the end! I won’t go into detail because it would be a spoiler, but when it all comes out, I did a little “yay” dance. I just hope Peterson gives us an epilogue or a novella that touches base on Brian and Abigail’s life since Nutshell’s ending.
If you’re looking to read a book where the author has taken the time to convey what she knows and what she’s treated, I highly recommend Tanaya J. Peterson’s My Life in a Nutshell. Seriously, I commend Peterson for tackling a taboo subject.