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In Leah’s Wake
By Terri Giuliano Long

 Genre: literary fiction

Even though Terri is a Novel Publicity customer, I was not given anything in return for this review (I even bought the book).

Normally, I don’t read the reviews of books before I buy them.  I let the blurb on the back (and yes, the cover) influence my decision.  It was the same for this book but because it took me so long to read it, I’ve read reviews for In Leah’s Wake as part of Novel Publicity.  While I tried not to let them influence me, they were in the back of my mind while I read.  I found myself either agreeing or disagreeing with them while I read, so I’ll address some of them.  Another factor in this review that won’t come up often in others is that I’m the child of a child therapist so I’m exceptionally critical of Zoe’s behavior given that she is a child therapist in the novel.

Warning: this book includes underage sex, underage drinking, eating disorders, illegal substance and drug abuse.

Summary pulled from Goodreads

The Tyler family had the perfect life – until sixteen-year-old Leah decided she didn’t want to be perfect anymore.

While Leah’s parents fight to save their daughter from destroying her brilliant future, Leah’s younger sister, Justine, must cope with the damage her out-of-control sibling leaves in her wake.

Will this family survive? What happens when love just isn’t enough?

Jodi Picoult fans will love In Leah’s Wake – a heartbreaking, ultimately redemptive story about family, connection and our responsibility to those we love.

Initial Thoughts

This is an amazing book for book clubs and discussion groups, but also good for pleasure reading.  It’s practically a “how not to be a parent” manual.  Just when you think everything is going to be alright and the family is back on track, one of them screws it up, sometimes it’s one of the daughter and sometimes it’s one of the parents.  In Leah’s Wake is full of relationship chicken.  Neither person wants to change direction and they end up crashing.  Every character in here is incredibly self-absorbed, even when thinking of others, it’s really about themselves.  Drove me nuts, but it highlighted a flaw in society.  Even when the dad goes to bring his daughters back home, it’s not about getting the daughters to safety, it’s about “I won’t live like this anymore, I want to control their lives, having them home will fix my marriage.”  Wanted to smack them all.

Overall, I really liked it.

What I liked

When a coach calls a risky play and it works, he’s a genius; if it fails, he’s an idiot.  The judgment is based on the outcome rather than looking at the factors that influenced the coach’s decision.  Some of the reviewers seemed to use this same criteria when judging Will’s reaction to Leah being out three hours past curfew, but what if something had happened to her?  Would they still think he was overreacting if instead of being with her boyfriend, she had been abducted?  If he had gone to bed and not called the police until the morning, they might have accused him of being neglectful.  Personally, I think his reaction was realistic.  When someone at Starbucks who had a record for being late didn’t show up for work on time, everyone got angry and snapped about how that person should be written up.  When I was late because I blew a tire and didn’t have my cell phone, when I got there everyone was concerned.  Having a child with a good track record makes it that much more likely that something happened to them.

Now, was Will’s reaction once she was home excessive? Yes.  He loses control of his tempter and Leah ends up slamming into the wall, but was it unrealistic?  Hardly.  She came home with a troublesome looking boy Will has never met, with bloodshot eyes and alcohol on her breath.  There are plenty of parents who would have lost it.  If anything, I was more concerned with Zoe’s lack of concern or questioning, not Will’s near melt-down.

Ignoring my expectations for Zoe’s character (which I discus in the next section), the characters were realistic and representative of a dysfunctional family trying to keep it together.  Both parents look back at their lives and realize their life didn’t turn out the way they would have liked.  Will deals with this by trying to live out his dreams vicariously through Leah.  He gave up a soccer scholarship from Harvard and so he pushes Leah to fulfill his dream.  She’s got the talent, but she doesn’t have the heart.  He’s trying so hard to make sure she doesn’t ruin her life that he doesn’t realize it’s his dream for her and not her dream at all.  When Leah isn’t able to “be herself” at home, it’s not surprising she ends up with Todd who doesn’t have any expectations of her and tells her to follow her heart.

Terri did a good job demonstrating that the same parenting tactics don’t always work with different children.  The incentives and punishments that worked for me did not work for my younger brother.

I also liked that Leah’s decline was understandable.  In some places I rolled my eyes at her melodramatics, but the change from well behaved model child to rebellious teen was not sudden nor was it unfounded.  I was pleasantly surprised to be able to follow each straw as it added to the camel’s back until everything fell apart.  Never having understood the bad boy appeal, I was surprised that Terri managed to make Leah’s attraction to Todd understandable.  While I don’t know why she stayed with him as long as she did, I could see what drove her into his arms.

What I didn’t like

I’m exceptionally critical of the mother’s character.  Maybe there’s a difference between a child therapist (Zoe’s occupation) and a child discipline specialist (my mother’s occupation), but Zoe’s reactions didn’t fit what I would have expected from someone in her profession. I never rebelled; I didn’t have a chance to because my mother squashed it when I had a 3 ½ hour temper-tantrum at 18 months old (true story).  I would have expected Zoe to have read the warning signs long before Leah reached this point, but even if she missed them, I would have expected her to deal with sixteen year old Leah differently.

Again, maybe it’s a bias of my upbringing, but Zoe coddles Leah and I would have expected her to know better.  She’s a complete and utter failure at disciplining her child which is ironically the exact opposite of her husband.  I don’t know if this was an attempt to balance her husband’s parenting, or for some other reason, but it didn’t fit what I expected of her character.

It might be hard for Zoe to diagnose the issue in her own family, but the erratic behavior and extreme highs and lows point to drug abuse or bipolar disorder, neither of which Zoe should have ignored, especially while she is chiding herself about not being there to notice the warning signs.  Her behavior just baffles me.

The sentence structure switches from present tense to past tense in the same paragraph. I realize this is picky, but as you’ll notice by the stars, it wasn’t weighted very heavily in my scoring.  I’m not a fan of present tense in general, but I really don’t like it mixed through a novel.  It disrupts my reading.

I also didn’t like Jerry, the cop who gets involved in the family turmoil.  He develops an infatuation with Zoe, the mother, way too quickly.  Once it was further in to the story and he interacts with them more frequently, the relationship between him and Zoe was realistic, but early on it was not.

Overall 4 stars.


To see other book reviews by Ermilia or request a review, check our Book Reviews page.