Book Review: All That You Can Leave Behind by Neil Leatherbarrow

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Updated June 13, 2017
Book Review: All That You Can Leave Behind by Neil Leatherbarrow

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This wasn't how it was supposed to end. A senseless tragedy leaves a father wondering why his daughter, a charismatic and talented dancer, was taken from him. He pieces the incidents together through memories of his own childhood and the thoughts of those who were closest to his daughter - from teachers, to friends, to her fellow cast members of Billy Elliot the Musical.

Telling both the harrowing aftermath of his daughter's death set against his own rough upbringing and adolescence littered with petty crime, Leatherbarrow's true story brings to the fore the realisation that the second chances we get are not always the ones we see coming.


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All That You Can Leave Behind
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Charlotte Leatherbarrow was a twelve year old ballerina with her whole future ahead of her. Already performing on stage in the West End of London in the stage show of Billy Elliot her life was tragically cut short when crossing the road to her dance lesson she was knocked down by a bus. This tragic event unfolded in front of her Mum and two Brothers, her Father was away working in Germany when this happened, but this book is his story of dealing with the fallout from this horrible moment.

In his prologue Neil Leatherbarrow makes it clear that he is no expert in dealing with grief, this is a warts and all story about dealing with a horrendous tragedy. Alongside this narrative about dealing with this life changing accident Neil tells the story of his childhood. This helps the reader to get an understanding of the reasons that Neil has dealt with this tragedy the way that he has. In school Neil was unfocused, this was no doubt something to do with being moved from school to school as his parents divorced and his Mother collected him from school the day she left his Dad. Home life was not much better, waking up one night and stumbling into the lounge to find a naked man on top of his Mother, not knowing about sex this was a shock and left him getting beaten by the man who would become his first StepDad.

Needless to say that Neil's childhood was not a terribly happy one that ultimately left him out of contact as an adult with both parents. The effect that this has is a resolve from Neil to make sure that despite the situation his two sons will grow up with both of their parents together, loving them and loving each other. The divorce rate in the UK is high anyway, but for those who go through this type of tragedy the odds of divorce get much larger. Neil pulls no punches about how difficult this situation is and how hard life is for both him and his wife Karen as they negotiate each day knowing that their daughter is no longer there.

Out of their grief the family decided to set up the Charlotte Leatherbarrow Foundation which helps children from underprivileged backgrounds attend lessons in the performing arts. The outpouring of grief is channelled into support for the family and also support for this foundation.

The story of Neil's childhood includes a time when he decided that he wanted to become a follower of Jesus. This happened after visiting the Greenbelt Festival in 1983. The change in his life saw him step away from petty crime, glue sniffing and move his life in a different direction. Charlotte's death has left Neil and Karen with many questions and frustrations about why and how God can allow this to happen to their little girl. Their grief never becomes a reason to no longer believe though and Neil sums up the thoughts relating to faith and truth as he communicates the Biblical story of salvation in the last chapter of this book. He sums up the battle ahead of him with some eloquent encouragement based in Biblical truth.

"My belief is my conviction of truth. My conviction comes from my journey of faith in a God who cares nonetheless. In this unholy war that I call grief, my faith still stands. Even though I have been robbed of a life so precious to me, I will wait patiently and in faith I will rise on the strength of eagles. I will win this war on grief."

This is a story that will definitely tug on the heart strings, particularly in his description of viewing the body in the funeral home and barely being able to recognise his own daughter. The writing is straightforward and there are some real heart struggles expressed in this writing, many people, even Christians (maybe especially Christians would be better) don't want to admit that an event can cause issues between a husband and wife, or through other family members, but this is disclosed honestly. There are other things, such as not being supported by those he expected, instead the support sometimes coming from other sources and people who didn't even know the family or Charlotte herself. This can often be true and as such we need to learn to love and show our support practically and emotionally for our Brothers and Sisters and remember that there is no time limit on grief. Through all of this though there is a positive message, there is hope and there is a knowledge that even though their daughter is no longer with them, she has inspired so many who knew her and through the foundation her memory will live on and through her simple faith that they will be reunited with her one day!

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