Leah Tyler has an excellent future, full of possibilities. An accomplished soccer player — the best on her high school team — she is poised to earn a college scholarship, possibly to Harvard University. She is beautiful, has always maintained good grades, and been responsible. But she is tiring of soccer and her father, Will’s, drive to see her lead her team to the state championship and attend an Ivy League university. He dropped out of college, forfeiting an athletic scholarship and has always regretted it, so he does not want his daughter to repeat his mistakes.
Justine is a twelve-year-old eighth-grader who, like her sister, maintains excellent grades and stays out of trouble. She is a devout Catholic, about to be confirmed, has been selected to give a speech during the confirmation service. Meanwhile, Zoe, the girls’ mother, works as a counselor and presents motivational workshops.
When Leah begins to rebel, the family’s status quo is shattered. First, Leah cuts soccer practice, telling her father that she is burnt out on the game and the disciplined practice and game regimen it requires. Worse, she begins hanging out with a troublesome group of kids, including Todd Corbett, an older boy with a criminal record. Leah’s coach is angry and disturbed by Leah’s behavior, her grades slip, and she becomes openly defiant and disrespectful toward her parents. Her father reacts with angry threats, while her mother struggles to understand why her daughter is changing so dramatically — both of them feel completely helpless and symied, as their own relationship deteriorates under the strain of trying to stop Leah’s life from completely derailing. Meanwhile, Justine, who has always idolized her big sister, becomes increasingly lost, wondering why her parents seem to have forgotten that they have two daughters.
In her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, author Terri Guiliano Long paints a portrait of a family deconstructing. The Tylers have enjoyed a comfortable life, beset by few complications. But now Zoe feels unfulfilled in her career as a counselor, while Will has encountered problems on his job as a sales representative. Now financial stress complicates what is rapidly becoming an untenable situation: Leah’s sudden rebellion is both out of character and unexpected, and her parents simply do not know how to react or what to do to get their daughter back on track.
In Leah’s Wake is told from the perspective of each of the four members of the Tyler family. Will’s primary reaction to Leah’s sudden irresponsibility and acting out is rage. He yells, he threatens, he attempts to reassert boundaries, all to no avail. When his efforts prove futile, in addition to failing to meet with his wife’s approval or support, he retreats from his family. Already traveling frequently on business, he begins drinking more and flirting with barmaids, contemplating the idea of a dalliance. Long’s portrayal of a committed family man who has become lost and bewildered rings true.
Zoe also retreats in her own manner. Following an accident while jogging, she relies increasingly on pain killers to numb her emotions and withdraw from her professional and family responsibilities. She is believably heartbroken, but unsuccessfully tries to stop Will from pushing Leah further away from them. Her methods — trying to be understanding and sympathetic while bribing Leah with expensive gifts — are, however, equally unavailing. She seeks solace in the friendship of the police officer who intercedes and develops an interest in Zoe that exceeds the bounds of professionalism. Like Will, Zoe’s reactions are completely believable.
The reality is that Leah, a confused high school junior lured into a life that she perceives as wildly adventurous, exciting, independent, and free from the drudgery of sports and studies, is in free-fall and no one can help her until she wants help. Long accurately and sympathetically describes Leah’s conflicting emotions — she is a girl who genuinely loves her family, but has fallen for a very bad boy who pressures her to have sexual relations with him and experiment with drugs and alcohol. Freedom is enticing, but Leah has to establish her own identity and want to succeed on her own terms, not her parents’. The question Long’s tale poses is whether she will ultimately make good choices that lead her back to a productive life and promising future.
Lastly, little Justine is trapped in the chaos that now characterizes the Tyler household. At only twelve years of age, she must grow up quickly and make choices, as well. Should she emulate some of the behaviors in which Leah is engaging, such as smoking cigarettes? Or should she remain loyal to the values her parents have instilled in her? As she tries to please her parents and Leah, she teeters on the brink of rebellion herself and develops anxiety about not only her sister’s future, but her own, as well as her constantly-bickering parents’ marriage.
Justine’s journey comprises the heart and soul of In Leah’s Wake. Her feelings of being abandoned and overlooked by her parents are heart-breakingly realistic, and compel readers to cheer for a happy ending to a very troubling chapter in the Tylers’ life. The characters’ dialogue is as authentic as their emotional struggles, making In Leah’s Wake a fascinating study of teen-age angst and rebellion against authority and expectations, and dynamic family drama.
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Author Terri Guiliano Long has generously provided one copy of In Leah’s Wakee to be awarded to a lucky Colloquium reader! Submit your entry utilizing the Rafflecopter widget. (The book can only be mailed to a United States or Canadian street address. It cannot be mailed to a post office box.)