In Leah's Wake by Terri Guiliano Long

People will never fail to not live up to your expectations. Because they are only human. 

The book in one sentence:
The story of an unravelling of a family.  

Serious synopsis: 
The Tylers have a perfect life—beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest daughter, 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 everything goes wrong.

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.

Can this family survive in Leah’s wake? What happens when love just isn’t enough?

My thoughts

The title ... I immediately thought it would be about death. And that cover - despite the greenery and the freshness - it just made me feel really sad. It is about death, in a sense, a death of the baby you once knew and her rebirth into the person she wants to be. Was I ready for another sad read?

Apparently I was. I got this in the mail after work, and I flipped through the first few pages then found myself  speeding through it in the next two nights. I couldn't bear to put it down.

My nose came out of a book with a huge whew! This is quite the heart wrenching read; it exhausted me emotionally. It is a very honest book about family life - about expectations and unmet expectations and the very complicated reality of family relationships. I could relate to the different characters in different ways...

I became Leah as she went through the craziness of trying to assert herself as her own person. She was fighting the warring voices in her head, trying to decide which side of her would win out ... but she was adamant that she do what she thought was best for her (in hindsight, however naive or misinformed it be)

"Leah was tired. Tired of her life. Tired of living in this crappy house, in this crappy neighborhood, with crappy parents who didn't appreciate her."
- p. 115


"Leah had never felt so lonely or displaced. She forced herself to picture the ride home from the police station the other night, the rage in her father's eyes, the disgust in her parents' faces when she climbed out of the car.

You're not their little girl anymore, she reminded herself. Life as she'd known it was over."
- p. 156

I became Zoe and Will, the protective parents, second-guessing myself on whether I knew my child, on whether I had raised her "properly." It's tortuous to think about decisions that affect our children.  It's nuggets of parental wisdom like this that really hit home:

"No wonder she's the way she is." A strong-willed child , like Leah, needed solid boundaries. By giving in to her demands, they'd taught their daughter, in effect, her will was stronger than theirs. Bu pushing, haunting, she'd eventually get her way.Children aren't equipped to take charge. Predictably, she'd lost control. "We should've stuck to our guns."
- p. 257

And I became Justine, the bewildered sister, still looking up to Leah, refusing to believe the worst yet loving her despite her sister's flaws.

"Did you get roofied?"

Roofied? Seriously, Justine wasn't that naive, was she? She was staring at Leah, her face hopeful, her earnest brown eyes open wide.

Leah considered fessing up. Justine had come home early because she was worried. She was sitting here now because she cared about Leah. Leah owed it to her to tell her the truth. Only who knew how Justine would react?
- p. 65



The characterizations are so on-point that I couldn't help but relate. That the book is told in first person makes it relatable from the characters' various views, so one can easily put themselves in the shoes of at least one of the characters.

I also think that books about families in crisis need to be written and read, simply to open channels for discussion. For the parent, it is always a challenge to remember going through adolescence and a better understanding of their children - by keeping communication channels open - can only help them. For the child, it is always a challenge to open up fully to one's parents for fear of judgement or recrimination (but really, they are on their child's side and only want the best.)

Didn't quite like: 

I overalled loved the story. So this is bit nitpicky but tiny things that bug me but bug me nonetheless: I hated the fonts used for the cover (so dated) and the little icons at the top of each page bugged me (overused).  It made the book so "homemade" which isn't a bad thing in itself - but putting it next to a Jodi Picoult designed novel, it lacks the same sophistication and does it a bit of a disservice - because this book definitely needs to be read!

Verdict: This book is bound to touch parents and children alike, the characters speaking volumes about family life and the inevitability of family bonds.


First line:
Zoe and Will Tyler sat at their dining room table playing poker.

Last line: And rising to the balls of her feet she goes on.

Check out Terri Guiliano Long's website for more about the book, book discussions, and more.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment

  1. In Leah's Wake is a turn from the type of novels I usually read, but the story sounded interesting and I wanted to give it a try. From the beginning of the book, I was drawn into the Tyler family's drama. The issue's this family have are typical of most families, the parents do the best they can to try to raise their children at times putting a bit too much pressure on their kids. The teenager rebels against the parents and the pressure they are under, feeling that their situation is unbearable and unfair. Then there is the younger sibling who has to watch the family break down. It is so easy to identify with this family, and feel for each of the characters as the situation spirals out of control.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall