Holding my daughters for the first time, watching them absorb the world around them, smelling their sweet breath, I pictured a fairytale future. My vision of them held details of first steps, first boyfriends, college, marriage and eventually grandchildren. A lifetime of accomplishments mixed in with minor disappointments, disappointments that would only strengthen them to be the amazing women I know they will be. I pictured sharing this joy with my best friend and partner, my husband.
I didn’t picture rampant sexual teens, drugs, drop-out coke dealing boyfriends, drunken parties or searching relentlessly for my runaway daughter. Thoughts of them failing school, insulting their team mates by quitting, or squandering a chance at college scholarships never crossed my mind. It was an impossible possibility that my older daughter could influence her younger sister to follow down a dark, dangerous road with her, causing a 12-year-old mental breakdown. My marriage could never be stripped down by the stress of raising an emotionally drowning teenager, worn thread bare, exposing gaping holes where adultery could seep in and communication lost. That could never happen to my family. Could it?
That’s what Zoe and Will Tyler must have thought too, as they watched their two beautiful daughters, 12-year-old Justine and 16-year-old Leah, grow up in Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel In Leah’s Wake.
“They had no idea, he and Zoe, how easy they’d had it when the girls were young.”
In Leah’s Wake is a dramatic contemporary novel about the average suburban family. Will and Zoe Tyler are both hard-working parents trying to provide the perfect life for their children: a nice house, good schools, sports and academic enrichment. Leah is a soccer star, groomed for a future in collegiate sports, captain of her team and a positive role model for her younger sister. Justine’s strengths are in academics, a compassionate heart, a desire to please her family and an unquestionable faith. The Tyler family seemed to have it all, a life of promise and privilege, and a life, not too unlike my own. Until suddenly, they find themselves drowning in the wake of Leah’s tumultuous teenage transformation.
Early in the novel, Terri pulled at my heartstrings so much, the story became personal. My identity started to intertwine with Zoe Tyler. Her voice echoed in my head, the same as so many other moms.
“…Zoe vowed. From now on, if one of her children needed her, she planned to be available. She would rearrange her patient schedule so she was free to pick up Leah after practice, would attend every game. She would set aside at least four hours of individual, quality time, per week, for each of the girls. She would pack their lunches. Bake cookies. Sew Halloween outfits. She’d be the perfect mother. Better than perfect, she thought…”
It’s clear that Terri is a parent, and not surprising to know that she is raising four daughters. Her concrete descriptions and detailed passages engaged all my senses, creating a sense of inclusion, as if I were a part of the Tyler family. She has an extraordinary ability to allow the reader to see the action unfolding from all of the characters’ viewpoints, reminding the reader that reality and truth are influenced greatly by each person’s perspective and personal experiences.
We start to see a crack in Leah’s vision, the beginning of her unraveling, when she has to engage in a classroom conversation about their futures.
“When her turn came, Leah mumbled her answer. A professional soccer player, she said, the choice they all expected to hear… Lately, she’d begun to wonder if playing pro soccer was something she really wanted to do. The adults in her life all pushed her in that direction, told her she’d be a fool not to play; maybe she’d simply adopted their dream.”
How many times, as parents, do we push our children to do something because they show a natural talent? Thousands of times I have thought, “They’ll thank me later”.
Leah’s restless spirit finds solace in a 19-year-old high school dropout, Todd. His carefree lifestyle and independence are intoxicating, lulling Leah into a false sense of adulthood. Like most teenagers, Leah thinks she is old enough to handle life on her own, without the support of her loving family. What starts out as normal teenage rebellion, breaking curfew, secrecy, and talking back soon turns into a full-blown revolt as Leah’s parents try to regain control. But they are no match to a life of parties, drugs and music.
Justine is caught between wanting to please her parents, and wanting her sister’s approval. She begins to slip away into the dark waters her big sister treads, hoping to maintain their relationship. Justine is also the peace-maker of the family, and when she can’t help her parents reconcile with her sister, not only is her heart-broken but her faith in family, friends and religion is shattered. She begins to take on a more maternal role, taking care of her mother after a debilitating accident and battle with depression.
Ironically Zoe is a family counselor and leadership coach but is unable to utilize her well-trained, professional skills to recognize the red flags her daughter Leah was flailing. As her perfect life starts to dissipate, revealing instability, she retreats into herself, extends too much grace and not enough discipline for fear of losing her friendship with her daughter.
Perhaps Will could have been more present if he wasn’t trying to dig himself out of his own drama. Life throws us many unexpected trials, and for Will a demanding work schedule and marital discontentment blinded him from what his family really needed until it was too late. He also got caught up in his parental dreams, picturing his daughter playing soccer at a collegiate level, forgetting to make sure that was what his daughter wanted too.
Although In Leah’s Wake is a sad story of family experiencing traumatic growing pains, Terri does a fantastic job leaving the reader with some hope in the end. This book made me take a look at my own children, marriage and priorities. It reminded me how precious each day is and that we can’t take anything for granted. Terri also gave me some insight on how the teenage brain works, letting me hear Leah’s thoughts and inner voice, hopefully giving me a small clue to what goes on behind those frustrated eyes of my own teenage daughter, tossing me a life-preserver for my own future wake.
Will is reminded of some advice his mother gave him when his children were younger.
“Your children will bring you the greatest joy in your life…They will also break your heart. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
*This book review is part of an official book tour.
Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.
The next word for the book give-away is (NEW). Learn more about the give-away and enter to win 1 of 3 copies on the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page. The other 2 copies are being given-away courtesy of the GoodReads author program, go here to enter. And don’t forget to stop by the Q&A with Terri Giuliano Long Group to discuss In Leah’s Wake (including questions from the official book club guide), the author, her writing process, and advice.
Book Trailer for In Leah’s Wake: