Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are on the cusp of graduation from Brown University. They seem to have it all, graduating from an elite university, each with their own talents and accomplishments, with their whole lives ahead of them. But dig a little deeper, and you learn that Mitchell has been in (probably unrequited) love with Madeleine since freshman year, Madeleine is despondent after a breakup with Leonard, and Leonard is having a breakdown. The story follows each of the characters just prior to and after their graduation, as Mitchell searches for his faith as he travels the world and Madeleine and Mitchell confront the pain and the swing of Leonard’s mental illness.
The author does an extraordinary job of painting Leonard’s bipolar disorder with tenderness, sensitivity and honesty, showing the various shades of the illness, with its extreme highs and devastating lows. Leonard truly loves Madeleine but sometimes cannot make room for her in his world that is crowded with thoughts and emotions that overtake him. And Madeleine tries to support him but there are many times when he is not “supportable.” Leonard is particularly winsome, with a charm and intellect that endear the reader to him and his plight, and when he falls, the reader is right there with him. But the reader is also privy to the effects of Leonard’s illness on many of those around him, and this is a sad portrayal of how this disease can affect so many.
Mitchell provides the lighter side of the story, with his almost comical travels and experiences. As he searches for meaning through good works and volunteering, he learns about his own limitations. He is not, as it happens, Mother Teresa. His journey also helps him to come to terms with his love for Madeleine and gives him the courage to figure it all out.
I also have to confess… I loved the locations of the scenes in this book. The mention of places particularly in Providence in the early 80’s brought me back to my teen years and was so pleasantly nostalgic for me. An extra bonus!