In her debut novel, author Diji Shujahi shares a semi-autobiographical account of a woman struggling with work/life balance who finds herself separated from the children she adores during an unprecedented global pandemic. The forced separation sends the protagonist into a heart wrenching depression—and on a self-reflective journey to find out who she is as a professional, a mother, and a woman.
As the story begins, we’re introduced to Diji and it becomes immediately clear she has survived challenges that would destroy most people. Diji candidly describes the fallout of being forced into a loveless, arranged marriage. Even as she built a successful career, her marriage continued to deteriorate—eventually spiraling into unspeakable physical abuse.
During the marriage, Diji gives birth to two daughters. Her fierce protection of the girls is a driving force throughout the book, and is the spark that inspires Diji to leave her husband and take on the role of single mother. Leaving a lucrative career behind, Diji rebuilt her life, balancing the pressures of work and single motherhood. As happens to so many of us, Diji found herself chasing the corporate brass ring, intent on climbing higher up the ladder of success.
Diji’s strength of spirit and ferocity are palpable as she writes about assuming more work responsibility, eventually taking on a large-scale project that requires her to live short-term in the Philippines. It is here that Diji’s facade of control slowly starts to crumble and she is forced to acknowledge her own limitations and the dangers of overconfidence.
Shortly before she is scheduled to return home to her girls, a global pandemic, the likes of which the world has never known, breaks out and forces Diji into isolation. Held captive by an invisible virus in a foreign country, separated from her children and family, Diji describes a heartbreaking descent into self-doubt and depression.
The novel takes a riveting and somewhat supernatural turn when Diji experiences a teleportation of sorts into an alternate universe—one where she sees herself as a confident, healthy executive expertly balancing work and self-care. It’s a fascinating read, one that draws the reader in, allowing us to share in the excitement and hope Diji experiences, seeing what could be.
This experience sets Diji on a quest of sorts, relying on the wisdom of family and professional friends, to guide her as she picks up the pieces of her shattered life and reinvents herself. The book is chock full of authentic advice from real-life celebrities, life-coaches, nutritionists, and spiritual advisors, all providing practical and implementable tips and suggestions.
This riveting read culminates as Diji continues to transform herself, fights to get home, and, ultimately, shocks the reader with a breathtaking twist he or she won’t see coming.
In the end, Leveling Up is a book about humility, sorrow, self-discovery and the ferocious love a mother has for her children. This story will appeal to readers looking for a fanciful escape novel as well as those searching for practical advice on how to transform their lives. Don’t miss the great twist at the end of the book, it will be worth it.