I’m not even sure how to describe this book. From the moment I started reading, it had me. But I couldn’t explain why. Maybe because, as Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
In Leah’s Wake is a moving tale of a family’s struggles when a golden child gives up her dreams and takes a path that leads to destruction. As the story plays out, the reader learns that it is not just Leah’s decisions that have brought the family to the point of near-dissolution. Other family members have made decisions, some in the long ago past, leading to this moment as well.
I’m not a reader of much non-genre literature, being primarily a mystery buff and author, and normally I would not have picked this book up. But, as I said, it grabbed me and held my attention right to the end.
As I watched Leah deteriorate, I was also captivated by her younger sister, Justine. Still in middle school, Justine idolizes her big sister, yet I still had a feeling that Justine felt somewhat overshadowed by the attention her sister got, first as a soccer star, and then as the targeted “problem child.” Justine’s own not insignificant talents, and her later acting out, are continually overshadowed by her sister’s behavior, for good or bad. And, yet, Justine loves her sister, and never gives up on her, and that love is returned.
I really enjoyed that the relationship between the sisters was developed and rich, and that it played a significant role in the eventual outcome. In too many books, the relationship between siblings of different ages is ignored or one sibling becomes a secondary character. But Leah and Justine shine as the stars of this book. If I had to say what the book was about in just a few words, I think I would say it was about the redemptive power of sisterhood. Watching Leah’s plunge into darkness, and her return to some semblance of her past was fascinating. The fact that so often it was a much younger sister that drew her back and helped her stay sane was a joy. Sibling love was at the center of this book.
Although Leah and her parents also have significant relationships, the parents have wrought their own destruction, both in their marriage and in their children. Her father’s ambitions for Leah and his vicarious living through her accomplishments, coupled with his apparent neglect of his marriage, made him a prime candidate for villain. But even he has his own redemptive moments. And the mother, Zoe, is not without blame, although I found her much more sympathetic than her husband, Will. Still, it is a dysfunctional marriage lived out through the behavior of the children.
All that said, this is a memorable tale of an unhappy family. But they are not cliches. There is no sexual abuse, no serious neglect or abuse at all. The tale is not maudlin or overdone. It is just a family, obviously caring for each other and doing the best they can. And falling short, just as we all fall short in our most significant relationships. The characters are complex, multifaceted, with strengths and weaknesses: in other words, they are real. On the surface, the family has it all. But dive beneath the surface, and they are, in their own way, unhappy.
I actually tried to explain this book to my partner. I kept saying, “I loved it. I don’t know why. I can’t describe it. I just loved it.” Perhaps, in the end, I found it redemptive, not just for Leah, but for Justine and for the parents. It was not the happiest of endings, but it was the right ending. And that is, after all, all you can ask for.
Another reason In Leah’s Wake sucked me in from the start is the writing. Terri Giuliano Long writes masterfully. I’m such a grammar Nazi, and the spelling cop in me is appalled at the numerous problems in so many self-published novels. I think I spotted two tiny errors in the entire book, fewer—and much less glaring—than I typically find in books published by traditional publishers. This book felt complete, well-edited, with a well-developed story arc, believable characters, careful prose, and immaculate attention to detail.
Oh My Stars! 5 of 5!
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 PUBLICITY’S. 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: