Reviewed by Tracy A. Fischer for Readers' Favorite
Sad. Happy. Heart-warming and heart-breaking. Those are the words I would use to describe The Fifth Floor by Julie Oleszek. In 1970s Chicago, young Anna thrives in the commotion of her large and rambunctious family. With ten children in the home, there is always something going on and something to do. However, everything changes for Anna when her beloved older sister, Liz, passes away. Anna blames herself for Liz’s death, but is unable to express her guilt and grief and, instead, deals with her turmoil internally. When Anna's inner turmoil manifests outwardly with less than positive actions, at age 17 she stops eating completely. Her mother seeks help for Anna, finally having her hospitalized at the recommendation of psychiatrist Dr. Ellison. Anna remains intractable, unable to let go of the secret feelings she has guarded for so long, but if she doesn’t let Dr. Ellison in, she might never heal.
The Fifth Floor is a sensitively written, well thought out novel that delves into themes of love, loss, guilt and redemption. I was drawn into the emotionalism of the story and, at times, felt my heart actually aching for young Anna. If ever there was a time I wished I could reach through the pages of a book and give a character a hug, it was when little girl Anna was trying to process the death of her cherished sister. I would highly recommend this book for any lover of fiction who is looking for a lovely and sentimental story, but especially for young adult readers who may be dealing with loss in their own lives. Julie Oleszek’s debut novel is beautiful, and I will be watching out for more of her work in future.