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Five Days Left Reader’s Guide

By Julie Lawson Timmer

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer


Questions and Topics for Discussion


Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.

Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.


Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Canada and earned a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University and a law degree from Southern Methodist University. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and children and is a full-time lawyer. This is her first novel; she is currently at work on her second.

  • Before we meet Mara, she has already decided to be tested for Huntington’s disease. We learn from Tom (and this is true in real life) that many people at risk choose not to take the test. They would rather live with a 50/50 chance that they don’t have the disease than know with 100 percent certainty they have it. Why did Mara choose certainty over chance? What would you choose, and why?

  • Mara believes it would be better for Laks and Tom to be without her than to be “dragged down” by her. Is it easier for a child with a severely ill or disabled parent if that parent dies early rather than lives for a long time? What about for the person’s spouse? From what you know of Tom, will he feel relieved by or furious with Mara’s decision?

  • Scott feels that Curtis would have a better future if he stayed with him and his wife instead of going back to live with his mother, LaDania, even if she cleans herself up. But unless there’s been extreme neglect or abuse, the law holds, it’s in a child’s best interest to be with his own mother. What do you think? Are the Coffmans the best choice for adoptive parents for Curtis, or should the social worker look for a same-race family? Is race an important consideration in foster care or adoption?

  • The online forum is an important source of friendship and support to Scott and Mara. Why do they each rely so much on people they’ve never met? Do you have online friends you’ve never met? Have you relied on them for friendship, support, or advice? Would you rely on them? What is it about online relationships that allows people to share intimate facts about their lives with others who are essentially strangers?

  • Bray is prepared to give up his basketball scholarship and college education to look after Curtis, until friends tell him it’s the wrong thing to do, both for him and for Curtis. If living with the Coffmans isn’t an option, do you agree it’s better for Bray to put Curtis into foster care rather than try to raise him?

  • If you were a friend of Mara’s and learned of her plan, would you let Tom know, or would you keep your friend’s secret? Do you think Tom should tell Laks how her mother died? Why or why not?

  • Early in their marriage, Scott and Laurie made plans to have children of their own. Later, Scott realized this plan wasn’t important to him anymore. Why do you think that is? Should Laurie be expected to go along with her husband’s new outlook, or should Scott be expected to stick with their original plan? In the end, Laurie sacrifices the family she’s always dreamed of in order to help Curtis and Bray. Why does she make that choice?

  • Mara hides her condition from her friends on the online forum. Does this make her interactions with them less authentic? Have you ever used the anonymity offered by the Internet to present yourself as someone different from who you really are? Can online relationships ever be as authentic as in-person ones?

  • Mara is unable to accept the loss of her legal career and her dependence. Were you sympathetic to her about this, or upset with her? Is her reaction understandable, given her Type A personality, or should she have tried harder to accept her new reality for the sake of her family? Do you believe the motivation behind Mara’s ultimate decision was Tom and Laks, or did she make a choice based on her own feelings and then justify it to herself by saying it was better for her husband and daughter? Is Mara self-sacrificing and brave, or is she selfish and cowardly?

  • If you were in either Mara’s or Scott’s position, what would you do?
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