In Leah’s Wake

By Terri Giuliano Long

Source: Review copy received from the author

My Rating: 3 / 5

Here is an excerpt of the summary from Goodreads:

The Tylers have a perfect life – beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest, Leah, an exceptional soccer player, is on track for a prestigious scholarship. Their youngest, Justine, more responsible than seems possible for her 12 years, just wants her sister’s approval. With Leah nearing the end of high school and Justine a seemingly together kid, the parents are set to enjoy a peaceful life…until Leah meets Todd, a former roadie for a rock band. As Leah’s parents fight to save their daughter from a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties, their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Justine observes her sister’s rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family – leaving her to question whether anyone loves her and if God even knows she exists

This book was tough to read at times, and is also difficult to summarize. It follows the Tyler family as they struggle to deal with oldest daughter Leah’s increasingly rebellious behaviour, and we see the effects of this behaviour on each member of the family.

It’s clear early on that while the Tyler family may seem perfect or ideal to outsiders (parents, two daughters – one brainy, one an athlete, a nice house, a dog, etc.), they are far from it in reality. Mom Zoe and Dad Will bicker and, because Will travels so much for work, spend a lot of time apart. Justine, the younger daughter, looks up to Leah, who is constantly rejecting or shooing her away. While it takes her family a while to see that Leah is caught up with a bad crowd and into some bad behaviour, through the third person omniscient narration, the reader learns that Leah has already let her grades slip, taken up smoking, and feels trapped and frustrated by the expectations of her parents (i.e. continue to be the star of the soccer team and earn a scholarship to a good college).

On one hand, it was easy to remember being a teenager and experiencing the same emotional struggles that Leah had, torn between wanting to be treated like an adult in charge of one’s own life, but still wanting to be able to fall back on the comfort of the parental authority when things took a difficult turn. On the other hand, Leah came across to me as a spoiled, inconsiderate, self-centred girl. So many of her choices and actions were not only self-destructive, but they also had very negative effects on the rest of her family.

All of that made it really hard for me to have any sort of sympathy or pity for Leah. More than anything, I was annoyed with her and really didn’t like her. The same can be said with Will and Zoe. Their relationship is rocky and each one flirts with the idea of adultery in the book, and they just couldn’t seem to have a conversation about anything without it turning into an argument.

The only character I had positive feelings for was Justine, the younger daughter. I felt bad for her because she seemed to be largely ignored by her parents while they tried to deal with Leah and their own issues. In a way, Justine was the only one who was remotely self-sufficient, and in fact ends up trying to take care of the rest of the family and hold things together while the rest of them fall apart. She looks up to Leah so much, thinking she’s her cool older sister, that she is blinded to her flaws, believing her lies and beginning to think about taking up smoking and wearing Leah’s clothes in an attempt to emulate her.

A lot of Leah’s troubles are connected to her boyfriend Todd – it’s through him that she winds up involved in drugs and ends up running away from home to be with him. I don’t want to get caught up in outlining all of the terrible, stupid things she does, mostly because her actions frustrated and enraged me so much. If not for the character of Justine, I would have struggled to finish this book, because I just found nothing redeeming in any of the other characters. They all talked about the importance of family and how much they loved one another, but they didn’t really seem to show it.

This book tackles some tough subjects, and I recognize that there may not be one ‘right’ way to deal with a child like Leah, but one thing that really stood out to me was how poorly the members of the Tyler family communicated with each other. There was a lot of dishonesty and arguing, and not a lot of effort to really listen to and try to understand each other.

Overall, this was an interesting read, but frustrating as well. I don’t know that I would truly recommend it, because I didn’t really enjoy reading it – I found most of the characters and their actions infuriating – but, if you’re looking for a challenging read that doesn’t provide any easy answers, you might like this one.

2 Responses to In Leah’s Wake

  1. Lorie says:

    Mature, sensitively-worded review, Kim; I don’t know, considering what we’ve been through as a family over the past few years, whether I’ll be able to read a book with these themes for quite a while. Still too close. Good review by you, though; just not a book for me – yet. And sometimes informing us what we shouldn’t read is an even more useful function of a reviewer as is recommending those things we should. Thank you.

    • Pingwing says:

      Yes, perhaps you can avoid this one for now. It would have been a more difficult read if I had felt more connected to the characters I think, but still, not an easy one.

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