Book Review: In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long
Zoe and Will Tyler led the perfect life in suburbia—a beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters.
Their eldest, Leah, was widely considered the best soccer player in the state of Massachusetts; she was right on track for receiving an Ivy league scholarship, and from there, no one had any doubt that she’d live the perfect, privileged life.
Their younger daughter Justine was far more responsible than seemed possible for her twelve years. An excellent student, she was set on becoming a doctor. As a devout Catholic, she turned to God to ameliorate the minor blips in her otherwise smooth existence.
Yes, Zoe and Will had done all right for themselves. With Leah nearing the end of her high school career and well-behaved Justine about to enter teen-dom, they were all-set to enjoy a peaceful life as soon-to-be empty nesters.
Then everything went wrong.
An unfortunate miscalculation pushes Will’s job into prolonged instability. But this goes almost unnoticed at the hands of a much bigger problem—Leah’s unforeseen and all-too sudden rebellion.
Leah falls in love with Todd, a drug-dealing high school dropout three years her senior. She pledges her devotion to him and envisions a life at his side. Todd introduces Leah to drugs, sex, and petty crime. At first, Leah is ambivalent about this new lifestyle; she wavers back and forth, weighing her commitment to her boyfriend against that of her commitment to the family.
When Leah breaks curfew one night, Will blows up at her and even threatens to kill her scumbag boyfriend. In her ongoing efforts to keep the peace, Zoe kindly points out that Leah could do better. Unfortunately, these attempts to help steer Leah back to the straight and narrow only push her further into the arms of Todd, and their differing strategies also cause a rift in the once happy marriage.
Every time Leah begins to doubt her future with Todd, one of her parents goes too far in their attempts to control her. Eventually, Leah’s ambivalence disappears all together.
Meanwhile, dutiful Justine just wants to be noticed by her sister, by her parents, by life itself. She follows Leah into deviant behavior of her own and even begins to question her commitment to academics and to God.
Will Justine follow in Leah’s wake? What will happen to Leah? Is she lost forever? Will Zoe and Todd’s marriage last? Is there any way for this story to end happily?
The five primary characters—Zoe, Will, Leah, Justine, and the fifth, Jerry, a local cop that will play an integral role in bringing the fragmented family back together—have distinct voices and world views. Their motivations are so believable and understandable that the reader may sometimes forget they only exist within the pages of a novel. Each feels like a person you may have once met and even loved. Together these characters usher the reader seamlessly through the harsh events that unfold within the novel. They make it move quickly; they make it enjoyable.
“In Leah’s Wake” is a story of the rationalization we make for others’ behavior as well as our own; it is about our responsibility toward those we love and about our interconnectedness with the world around us. Ultimately, this is a novel about family, duty, and growing up (even if you thought you had done that long ago).
With such thoughtful characterization and beautifully woven prose, the reader may find it difficult to believe that “In Leah’s Wake” is Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel.