In Leah's Wake, the debut novel by is a steal at just 99 cents for Kindle.
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***Be sure to check back after the holidays because my daughter and I are reading this book together and each of us will be posting our own reviews***
Excerpt from the new edition of In Leah’s Wake…
Leah’s head felt like a beach ball. She’d stay in bed all day if she could, cocooned in the blankets and sheets, but she had to pee. She dragged herself up, shivering as she threw off the covers. She’d never been this sick in her life. She probably had cancer. Oh God, she was going to barf. She dropped her head between her knees, staying put until her stomach had settled, and dragged herself to the bathroom.
She could hear her father in the kitchen, fixing breakfast. The odor of maple bacon drifted upstairs, making her gag. In a minute, he would be up here, ordering her downstairs to eat. Her team had a game this morning, at ten, which meant she had to be on the field—she checked her alarm clock—in an hour. She flopped back onto her bed, and pulled the covers defiantly over her head. No way was she playing soccer today. Not after last night, after her father freaked out.
She turned onto her side, burying her face in her pillow. Around midnight last night, Todd had retrieved a blanket from his truck, and spread it over a pillow of pine needles and leaves. She pictured him on his elbows, staring down at her, the planes of his face accentuated by the shadows. He pushed her hair away from her face.
His hand slid from her shoulder to her hips.
Todd, she whispered. Todd.
Her shades snapped up, startling her. In the harsh light, Todd’s face vanished. Hearing her name—Todd?—she rolled onto her back.
When she looked up, her father was standing over her bed.
“Time to get up, Leah. The Harvard coach is coming today.”
The nerve of that man.
She curled into a ball, pulling the covers over her head. Her father’s hand slid under the covers, and he wiggled her big toe, the way he used to when she was little. She yanked her foot back.
“Come on, kiddo,” he coaxed. “You have to get up.” He’d made blueberry pancakes. As if his stupid pancakes made up for last night.
“Go away,” she spat, her words garbled by the mountain of blankets and sheets.
“Leah, your team is—”
Who cares if you’re tired? She heard in her head. The competition is practicing, even when you’re not . . . “depending on you, Leah.” . . . dedication is what counts . . . “talk to you, honey.” . . . suck it up . . . get up, get up . . . do it . . . time to get up . . . time for soccer . . . time . . . practice . . . do it . . . just do it . . . Just do it.
Leah clapped her hands over her ears. “Go away,” she cried. “Get out. Get away from me.”
Why did her father do this to her? Why couldn’t he let her be?
“I’d like to talk to you, Leah. Please.”
“I’m not playing.” She threw off the covers. “And you can’t make me.”
The toilet flushed in the bathroom between her room and Justine’s. The faucet sputtered, and water splashed into the sink. Leah’s sister was washing her hands. Now she was brushing her teeth. Perfect little angel, never in trouble. Perfect little dork. Leah hated her sister. She hated them all—her mother, her father, Justine. Her parents didn’t care about her. They cared about controlling her. They expected perfection, wanted perfect robots for kids. Well, guess what? She wasn’t a robot. They’d have to be satisfied with just one.
“Fine.” Her father, sighing, sat on her bed. “Stay home, if that’s what you want.” He leaned forward, dropping his hands between his knees. “I blew it, baby,” he said, staring at the floor. “I’m sorry.”
Good. She had him right where she wanted him. Leah pulled the covers over her head, and raised her elbows, creating an air tunnel so she could breathe. She’d forgive her father. Eventually. First, she planned to make him suffer.
Her father’s weight shifted. She felt the spring of the mattress.
No. This wasn’t the way it went. Her father wasn’t supposed to give up. He never gave up. They talked until they’d worked things out. “Dad?” Leah shot of bed and darted out to the landing.
“Dad,” she called, leaning over the railing. “Daddy?”
By the time Zoe reached the office park, she’d worked herself into a funk. She parked her Volvo by the service entrance behind the building, in a spot reserved for tenants. Normally, she walked to her second floor office, a penitent’s offering to the exercise god she’d forsaken. This morning, anxiety fueling her fatigue, she waited for the elevator.
She’d worked for Cortland Child Services for eight years. She used to love this job. Physicians trusted her, and rewarded her with a constant flow of referrals. Too popular for a while, she’d been temporarily forced to close her practice to new patients. Now she dreaded coming to work.
Five years ago, patients treated her with respect; they’d listened eagerly and followed her advice. Today, everybody knew everything. Parents, armed with information from the Web, came to her seeking validation, letters attributing their child’s misbehavior to brilliance, drugs to give their child an edge. Zoe’s education and experience meant nothing. She was a service provider. She was tired of that game.
If she and Will could afford it, she’d leave the counseling center, build her seminars and branch out, write a book, go on the lecture circuit, where she could help thousands of people. But that was a pipedream.
She accidentally pressed “Down,” forcing her to ride to the basement and back up.
The stress at home had ratcheted her anxiety, adding to her unease. The small things she used to let slide had begun to get her: a missed appointment, a defiant gesture, an insolent remark. Doing a half-assed job made her feel crappy; these days, she felt like crap most of the time.
Zoe’s mood lifted as she opened her office door. This office, with its soft coral walls, was her sanctuary. Sunlight filtered through the blinds on the picture window, the flecks of sand in the carpet around the turtle-shaped sandbox glittering. Zoe’s grad school books lined the top shelf of a wall-to-wall bookcase. On the lower shelves were toys for the kids: cars and trucks, picture books, puzzles, stuffed animals, dolls.
From her iPod, she selected a soothing Thai instrumental piece, and logged onto her antiquated desktop computer. Her refusal to upgrade to a laptop was a running joke in the office. Zoe still handwrote her notes and transcribed them at the end of each day, the inconvenience a small price to pay for the ability to give her patients her undivided attention.
In no time, she’d printed and scanned her notes.
With ten minutes to spare before her first appointment, she decided to run check on the Corbett boy. (Last night, in her drunken stupor, Leah had blurted his name.) Zoe typed Corbett’s name in the Google dialogue box; feeling guilty, she immediately back-spaced. A Google search felt invasive, like reading her child’s diary or listening to a phone conversation. Yet how else was she to obtain information? She could hardly rely on Leah to fill her in. Other parents Googled their kids’ friends. “I do all the time,” Sheila Li, a colleague, had confided one day. “Can’t be too careful these days.” Corbett had gotten her daughter drunk and driven her home at three a.m. That revoked any right to privacy.
She tapped her desk, impatient for the page to populate.
On the first page she spotted an entry, dated July 10, 1998, the keywords Corbett and Massachusetts emboldened. Something about a drug arrest. The URL linked to an article on the Dallas Star website. Dallas? Drugs? Had to be a mistake, a misnamed file, an erroneous entry.
She hit the link, her pulse racing as she scrolled down the page.
MASSACHUSETTS MAN ARRESTED IN TEXAS DRUG BUST
EL PASO, Texas – A Massachusetts man was arrested early this morning outside the Roadhouse restaurant in downtown El Paso on suspicion of drug possession and trafficking. Todd Corbett, 21, from Massachusetts, works as a sound technician for the alternative rock band, Cobra. Jeff Jones, the band’s manager, was arrested on similar charges in November.
Insufficient evidence in the Jones case forced the district attorney’s office in El Paso to drop the charges. “We expect to hand down an indictment later today,” said Assistant District Attorney Len Ahearn. Ahearn declined further comment regarding the details of Corbett’s arrest, citing a judge’s gag order. If prosecuted, Corbett faces a sentence of up to twenty years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
A later article reported that the charges had been dismissed.
Zoe had expected to find something—a DUI, a petty theft, a drunk and disorderly—nothing like this. Leah pushed boundaries. She’d been drinking last night; she’d come in at three a.m. No way was she was mixed up with a drug dealer. She was a good kid, a talented athlete, with a bright future in front of her. She was too smart to throw it all away.
Zoe clicked back to the first article, reread it, and logged on to boston.com, the website for the Globe. In the “Metro” section of the July 11 edition, she found a single paragraph that began:
“Todd Corbett of Cortland, Massachusetts, was arrested. . .”
Reeling, she logged off. This was impossible. Zoe was a therapist. She worked with teenagers. If her daughter were involved with drugs, she would know. She’d recognize the signs. Moods? What sixteen-year-old girl wasn’t moody? Slipping grades? In high school, Zoe and Will had both flunked biology; maybe Leah had inherited the gene. Leah had missed her curfew a few times, until last night never by more than ten minutes. Granted, Leah had lied about being with Cissy. Yes, Cissy’s being MIA this last month was certainly strange. But girls fight. Junior year, Zoe’s best friend had dumped her cold, all because the girl’s crush had called Zoe “pretty.” Normal teenage behavior—all of this.
Zoe’s stomach went hollow.
Interview with Terri Giuliano Long
Please tell us a bit about your book and what you hope readers take away from reading it.
In Leah’s Wake tells the story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a straight-A student and star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets and dates a sexy older guy, attracted to his independence, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs—all this feels like freedom to her. Her terrified parents, afraid they’re losing their daughter, pull the reins tighter. Unfortunately, her parents get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine, caught between the parents she loves and the big sister she adores, soon finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together.
Parents, wanting the best for their children, often push their kids to be perfect – and push themselves to be perfect parents. It’s tempting to believe that only bad kids from bad families get in trouble. This attitude allows us to distance ourselves – this could never happen to us – and creates unhealthy competition. When families have problems, we judge and ostracize them, only adding to the difficulties they’re already facing. The truth is, when problems arise, the fallout affects the entire community. The epigraph from The Grand Inquisitor says it best: “everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” As Hillary Clinton famously said, it takes a village to raise a child. For the sake of our children, we must all do our part to be supportive members of the village.
Although the Tyler family is far from perfect, they love one another. Had the community rallied around and supported them, perhaps Leah would not have gotten as lost. Like adults, most teens just want to feel accepted and loved – not for what they accomplish or contribute, but for who they are. I’d be thrilled if my novel inspired readers to suspend judgment, to look less harshly at troubled teens and their families. I think we owe it to our teens, to our communities, and to ourselves to work harder to support and encourage all kids, not just those who conform.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
LEAH TYLER: Leah is a strong young woman, beautiful, smart, a superstar in the community. As long as she lives up to their expectations, she’s accepted, even celebrated. As soon as she tries to take control of her own life, question the rules, spread her wings, she meets resistance. When she chooses her troublemaker boyfriend over a promising college soccer career, and heads down a path of drugs and self-destruction, she rips her once happy family apart.
JUSTINE TYLER: Justine is twelve, in that awkward stage, not really a child anymore and not quite a teen. Justine is intelligent, faithful, and kind, and she sees the best in people, sometimes to her own detriment. Deeply religious, she sees God as Father and protector – a belief that will be challenged by her family’s turmoil. Her best friend is Dog, the family’s aging pet Labrador. Although only twelve, Justine is left to be the rock as the rest of her family plunges into depression.
ZOE AND WILL TYLER: Zoe and Will are hardworking parents – too hardworking – who love and want the best for their children. Ambitious and strong, Will is willing do whatever it takes to help his children reach their full potential, even if it means alienating them in the process. He can’t sit back, watching his teenage daughter destroy her promising future. Zoe, a child therapist and motivational speaker, is a peacemaker who avoids confrontation, and thus easily falls into depression. Their divided approach to Leah’s rebellion drives a wedge into their marriage.
Rather than listen to their daughter, accept that she’s growing up, that her choices may differ from theirs, and guide her down the path that’s right for her, Zoe and Will try to take control. This is a classic problem between parents and teens. The minute we put our foot down, say no, they can’t do this or that, they tend to focus all their energy in that direction. Zoe and Will’s escalating attempts to control their daughter result in her pulling away. This is a difficult cycle to break.
JERRY JOHNSON: Jerry Johnson, the police officer, is the only non-family member with a voice in the novel. Jerry’s work as a police officer brings him into frequent contact with the dissolving Tyler family. Though flawed like all the characters, he takes his responsibility for others to heart. He’s the connecting force in this novel.
TODD CORBETT: Leah’s boyfriend, Todd, a former roadie in a rock band, is a modern day James Dean, a rebel without a cause. He’s been arrested for dealing drugs, so it’s easy to blame him for leading her astray; really, he’s a conduit. He makes her feel comfortable and safe and encourages her blossoming independence.
By the time Leah realizes that he wants to control her, too – albeit in a different way – it’s too late. If only she’d realized how deeply her family loves her, she might have avoided the dire consequences she suffers. That’s the central irony in the book – perhaps the irony in many relationships between parents and teens.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Bob Sullivan, the owner of Sullivan Farms Ice Cream, and Dorothy Klein, the beautiful woman who designs the button bracelets Zoe buys for Leah and herself, are real people.
Every other character is completely imaginary. I did borrow gestures, habits, and physical characteristics from real people – the runaway arm belongs to my youngest daughter, KK; my husband is a darker physical stand-in for Will. Of course, borrowing sometimes results in unfortunate assumptions. I’m lucky – my family puts up with my thievery and ignores the conclusions readers draw.
Personality, motivation, and behavior of my characters I’m fully responsible for.
Q: Your book is set in Cortland, MA. Can you tell us why you chose this city?
Geographically, the town of Cortland is modeled after the town of Harvard, MA. In the fall, we used to go there to pick apples. Harvard is stunningly beautiful – with the rolling hills, the stone walls, the orchards. Sometimes, Dave and I would drive there and just ride around. This family is in tremendous pain; they’re struggling. That these fierce struggles might take place in this bucolic setting felt surprising, and that tension felt important to the book.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Judging from the stories I hear, the social and political climate in the imaginary town of Cortland reflects that in many middle- and upper-middle class towns across the U.S., and perhaps outside the U.S. I’ve talked with parents who’ve expressed frustrations similar to Zoe and Will’s. Culturally – not always or only by their parents – children feel pressure to live up to impossible expectations. When children step out of line, the parents and families often feel judged.
Community plays an important role in setting expectations and shaping and maintaining connections. The expectations, the constant demand to perform, can be overwhelming. In small towns, everyone knows everyone else, by sight if not by name. You can’t hide. If you or a family member is in trouble, everyone knows it. That claustrophobia and the constant feeling of condemnation, being watched, inform the inner lives of these characters and influence their behavior.
Q: Who are your favorite characters in the story?
My characters are all imperfect – they behave badly and they’re sometimes, perhaps often, enormously irritating – but I love them all, for their strengths as well as their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Justine is sweet and caring and kind, so she’s easy to love, but I also love Leah. Although Leah drives the parent in me crazy, her heart is in the right place. The same applies to Zoe and Will – they often make terrible choices; despite their failures, they act out of love.
In the novel, Jerry Johnson, the police officer, is the only non-family member with a voice. Though flawed like all the characters, he takes his responsibility for others to heart. I’ve always admired Gail Mullen Beaudoin, a police officer in Chelmsford, MA. Gail brings strength, dignity and grace to a very difficult job. I see police officers as the connecting force in communities. Every day they put their lives on the line. To me, they’re our real life heroes. As the connecting force in this novel and for this family, Jerry is my favorite.
Q: Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?
In a chapter called “Sisters Redux,” Justine, the geeky, goody-two-shoes little sister, asks Leah for a cigarette. It’s almost painful to see her trying so hard to win her big sister’s acceptance and affection. At first, Leah scoffs; then it dawns on her that Justine is actually serious and her conscience takes over. Leah has made difficult choices and been ostracized for them; for Justine, that path would be wrong. In certain arenas, dorks have the advantage, she thinks.
As she’s about to say no, it occurs to Leah that Justine has a right to make her own choices. With this insight, for the first time since they were young kids, Leah sees Justine as her equal. Despite her reservations, she gives her sister the cigarette. In a sweet moment, later in the chapter, Leah teaches Justine to dance. This love between the sisters is, to me, heartbreaking and special.
Q: If In Leah’s Wake were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?
Will Tyler – Matt Damon. Mr. Damon exudes fatherly love and protectiveness and he’s also very intense. If his daughter were in trouble, I can picture him going into overdrive, like Will, and doing whatever it takes to pull her back.
Zoe Tyler – Sandra Bullock. I see her as loving, driven and ditzy, a less strident version of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mom she played in The Blind Side.
Leah Tyler – For the role of Leah, I’d search for new talent. Caroline Wakefield, as played by Erika Christensen, in the film Traffic, reminded me of Leah, in her all-American beauty and stunning transformation from preppy to drug-addicted prostitute. Ms. Christensen is too old for this role, but she’d be the prototype.
Justine Tyler – Abigail Breslin. Like Justine, she’s sweet and dorky and cute. She’s also precocious and strong.
Jerry Johnson – Vince Vaughn. He’s not the guy who walks into a room and gets the girl, but he’s centered and responsible, the rock for the others to lean on.
Todd Corbett (Leah’s boyfriend) – Jordan Masek. Jordan plays the role of Todd in my trailer. Jordan is actually a sweet guy, in real life. But he knows how to channel his inner bad boy. I can’t imagine a more appropriately cast Todd.