60 pages 2 hours read

Lisa Genova

Left Neglected

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


Lisa Genova’s second novel, Left Neglected (2011), is the fictional story of Sarah Nickerson, a high-powered executive whose life changes forever when she is in a serious car accident. Genova is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels, each dealing with a different neurological condition. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in biopsychology and from Harvard University with a doctorate in neuroscience, a background that influences her writing.

Plot Summary

Sarah Nickerson relates the story from a first-person perspective. Sarah tries to balance a demanding job as the head of human resources for Berkeley Consulting, an international firm based in Boston, and a suburban family life with her husband Bob and their three children. Every day is a complex attempt to juggle long work hours and the needs of her family. Sarah loves her family, but she also loves the challenges of her career, as she is a highly competitive perfectionist. Her husband Bob also works long hours in the stressful environment of a start-up company. They continually battle over responsibilities such as who will drive the kids to school or attend their extracurricular activities.

Sarah’s precarious juggling act comes to a head when, while looking at her cell phone while driving to work, she is in a devastating accident. She suffers brain damage and a rare condition known as Left Neglect, in which her brain cannot perceive anything on the left side of her body.

After time in the hospital, Sarah begins the painstaking process of relearning how to walk, care for herself, and retrain her brain to see the world as a whole while in a rehabilitation center.

Sarah’s estranged mother comes to help her and her family, though Sarah immediately wants her to leave. Sarah harbors resentment towards her mother, who became so depressed following the accidental death by drowning of Sarah’s brother that she emotionally abandoned Sarah for the rest of her childhood. Sarah’s mother wants to make amends for her neglect, and gradually Sarah comes to forgive and appreciate her.

Forced to take a break from her over-scheduled and frantic lifestyle, Sarah also begins to understand how she neglected the needs of her own children. Her oldest, Charlie, has been struggling in school, and Sarah realizes that his difficulties are not his fault. Charlie’s subsequent ADHD diagnosis is a parallel to Sarah’s own neurological differences and challenges.

Sarah pushes herself to improve so that she can go back to her “normal” life, but eventually accepts that this is a much more difficult task than she had anticipated. When her boss asks her to return to work, she is excited at the prospect, but in the end she declines the offer, knowing that she is not capable of returning to that way of life.

At their second home in Vermont, Sarah learns to snowboard and feels a great sense of accomplishment. Sarah’s mother passes away, leaving Sarah grateful for their reconciliation. When a job opportunity arises, she convinces Bob to leave their stressful lifestyle behind and they move to Vermont permanently. Though it took a catastrophic brain injury to make her slow down, Sarah now appreciates all the elements of her life that she had previously neglected.