Disintegration: A Review of In Leah’s Wake
Title: In Leah’s Wake
Author: Terri Giuliano Long
Where I Got It: free copy from the Blog Tour de Troops
Score: 4 out of 5*
To continue the Novel Publicity blog tour for In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long, here is my review. I’ve had this book on my To-Be-Read List for awhile now. I actually received a free ebook copy back in May as part of the Blog Tour de Troops for Memorial Day. I finally sat down to start reading it last Friday, literally minutes after turning in my final grades and finishing the semester.
In Leah’s Wake opens with a seemingly perfect family: Zoe and Will are happily married, with rewarding careers, and two wonderful daughters. Leah – the sixteen-year-old soccer star, and Justine — the twelve-year-old budding scientist, who also happens to be devout Catholic. But the old saying “too good to be true,” proves real as Leah quickly spins out of control. Tired of her family’s constant push for perfection, and with a new older boyfriend introducing her to the world of drugs, alcohol, and partying, Leah decides that it is time to turn her entire life on its head.
Soon, her rebellion becomes disintegration. And as her parents struggle to prevent their daughter from ruining her life, the situation shakes loose deep-seated regrets, anxieties, and dissatisfactions in Zoe and Will as well. Everything around them seems to be falling apart. And their younger daughter Justine gets caught in the cross-fire. Fighting to keep her family together, fighting to keep the sister she loves and admires, and fighting to be seen in the midst of a situation that has rendered her invisible, Justine slowly starts to disintegrate as well.
Throughout the novel, questions fill the text: how can this family possibly survive? What will become of Leah? And, even more importantly (at least to me), what will happen to Justine? As the tagline asks: What happens when love just isn’t enough? And that is a very good question, because sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you love someone or how much you want to save them, if they don’t want to be saved.
What I Liked:
I really enjoyed this novel. It is a powerful drama about a family in crisis. The title character, Leah, is a very believable teenager. Her choices, reactions, and thoughts are convincing, and show that Terri Long’s writing is clearly grounded in a real understanding of life as a teenager (so many adults seem to forget…). I wouldn’t say she is sympathetic exactly… some of the things she says and does, though unsurprising coming from a teenager, are so stupid I want to smack her. Of course, this is coming from one of those teenagers who never rebelled (I was that one who never drank, smoked, got into fights, went to bad parties, or got anything less than As and Bs).
I definitely identify more with Justine, the one who has always been good, who is tempted to follow her sister into rebellion on occasion, but who is, for the most part, too afraid to do so. (I suppose you could call this novel a lesson in why that’s the right choice.) She is the truly sympathetic character, the one you care for and worry about the most. While I was curious to see what happened with Leah, and with the parents, it’s Justine I’m hanging around for. I spent most of the novel terrified that she was going to end up all screwed up like the rest of them, and I needed to get to the end to find out what happened to her.
That’s not to say the parents aren’t complex, well-written characters. For the most part, they are. Zoe, especially, is a fascinating character with a list of faults and virtues that made for intense reading. But I spent a lot of the book annoyed with them, just as I was annoyed with Leah.
What I Didn’t Like:
(Be prepared for a slight rant)
I’ll be honest, one of the things that is still bothering me is the father, Will, at the beginning of the novel. His initial reaction to Leah’s boyfriend is violent, excessive, and completely out of place. It comes out of nowhere, with (at least in my opinion) no clear motivation. It doesn’t help that it comes in Chapter 2, before the reader has had a chance to get to know Will at all, but even based on what you later learn about his temper, this initial explosion still seems unbelievably excessive. If Will had already known about the boyfriend and warned Leah to get rid of him, it might have made sense. If she had had a bad history of missing curfew, etc, it might have made sense. But at the beginning, Leah has only stayed out late a couple times, this is the first time Will has met the boyfriend, he knows nothing about him and has no idea about Leah’s drinking. It would make sense for Will to be angry, it would make sense for Will to demand to know who the boyfriend is. It does NOT make sense for him to explode and get physically violent.
Another thing that really bugged me — and I know this is small, but it really bugged me the whole novel — is the use of the words “kid” and “dude.” Everyone single one of the characters thinks/calls every single teenager/young adult “kid.” And almost all teenagers use the word “dude.” Seriously. Okay, let’s get one thing straight. Yes, adults often call children and teenagers and even young adults “kids.” And yes, some teenagers use the word “dude” a lot. But not to the exclusion of everything else. I know it’s hard to find other words to use, but when even the teenagers call other teenagers “kid” in the narration, there’s a problem. Leah even calls her own boyfriend “kid.” And he’s four years older than her! Also, not every teenager uses the word “dude.” In fact, while that was a very common word in the 90s, it has mostly fallen by the wayside in the current decade. Just ask my 17- and 18-year old students when I accidentally say “dude” in class.
Finally, another thing that bothered me was the amount of detail. Now, don’t get me wrong, obviously detail is important. Detail helps us to understand the characters, to see the setting, to get a real sense of the world the characters inhabit. However, here the detail was often excessive and unnecessary. Detail is most important when the readers are unfamiliar with a setting and need to really see it. But most of us have seen a bar. A few details are enough to give us a good idea of the bar and the people in it, and our imaginations/memories do the rest. Paragraphs of description are unnecessary. I cannot tell you how many sections of detail I ended up skimming over in search of the point, the dialogue, the action. It’s wonderful that the author knew so much about her characters, and could see the settings so clearly, but much of it was stuff we the readers simply didn’t need to know.
Now let me reiterate (since after that bit of a rant you may have forgotten): I really enjoyed this novel. Yes, there were some things about it that really bugged me. But the characters are compelling and the story is intense. You will care about the fate of this family. You will get angry at the stupid things they do, and you will cross your fingers that they don’t screw up next time. You will worry about the characters (if you’re like me, you’ll mainly worry about Justine).
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*Please note: I’m starting a new rating system. Please see the new “About Book Reviews” page for an explanation.