Title: In Leah’s Wake
Author: Terri Giuliano Long
Publication date: October 1st 2010
Genre: Literary fiction
Protecting their children comes naturally for Zoe and Will Tyler—until their daughter Leah decides to actively destroy her own future.
Leah grew up in a privileged upper-middle class world. Her parents spared no expense for her happiness; she had all-but secured an Ivy League scholarship and a future as a star athlete. Then she met Todd. Leah’s parents watch helplessly as their daughter falls into a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties. While Will attempts to control his daughter’s every move to prevent her from falling deeper into this dangerous new life, Zoe prefers to give Leah slack in the hope that she may learn from her mistakes. Their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage.
Twelve-year-old Justine observes Leah’s rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family. She desperately seeks her big sister’s approval and will do whatever it takes to obtain it. Meanwhile she is left to question whether her parents love her and whether God even knows she exists. What happens when love just isn’t enough? Who will pay the consequences of Leah’s vagrant lifestyle? Can this broken family survive the destruction left in Leah’s wake?
In Leah’s Wake is a beautifully written, emotional family saga about growing up, about the road to adulthood. The novel deals with a situation which most parents and teenagers go through at some point in their lives, which makes the story easily relatable.
The author did an excellent job by describing the Tyler family and how Leah’s reckless lifestyle affected her family members. She gives a detailed description of the perfectionist father who keeps pushing Leah throughout her life – who wants her to go to Harvard, even though she doesn’t want to go there. We soon find out that Leah lives under constant pressure: she says ‘she would disappoint her father anyway so why should she try?’. Her mother leads seminars for working women and gives them advice on how to be more efficient, more organized and successful, while it’s her life that she should concentrate on instead. She ignores her daughters to the extent where she literally plans how much time she can spend with them each week. One of the most striking parts of the novel for me were where Long says “Though it shamed her to admit it, there were days when, if she [Zoe, the mother] knew her daughter was there, she would do almost anything – paperwork, errands that could easily wait – to avoid going home.” This, in addition to the fact that Leah hates her parents so much that she refuses to eat with them and she only sneaks downstairs to help herself to the leftovers when everyone had fallen asleep, tells a lot about the family and how bad the situation was.
The characters are easily relatable – Justine, Leah’s younger sister, was the one I could identify with the most. It’s very touching how Justine takes care of the whole house all by herself – how she goes to school, does her homework and the housework, cooks, feeds the dog and she doesn’t even get a single thank you in return. She is constantly being ignored, pushed aside, her problems are always less important than Leah’s and her parents’. She’s the one who takes control when everything seems to fall apart and she’s only 12. I felt really sorry for her and admired her at the same time – I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing if I was her.
In Leah’s Wake is like an emotional roller-coaster. You cannot help feeling sorry for certain characters, being angry at some of the others – and in the meantime, you’re waiting for something to happen, someone to save the family. There were parts where the story felt a bit slow paced for me, but in spite of all this, it’s a brilliant debut novel by Terri Giuliano Long which is guaranteed to stay with you for a long time.