Justine watched her sister take another long drag from the cigarette. ‘Leah?’

Her sister peered at her.

Justine crossed and uncrossed her feet. She’d been practicing the runaway arm, a trick she’d made up for her sister, to make Leah laugh. Justine lifted her right knee, pulling it into her chest, and wound her left arm. ‘Look,’ she cried, winding, winding, her arm spinning, spinning, out of control. ‘The runaway aaaarrmmm.’

When they stopped laughing, Justine said, ‘Can I ask you something?’

Leah brought the cigarette to her lips, her eyes squeezed into slits. ‘If you want,’ she said, through a mouthful of smoke. ‘Can’t promise I’ll do it.’

Stop smoking, Justine wanted to say. ‘It’s not anything big. I don’t want you to take me anywhere or lend me anything or anything. I just want you to-‘ Justine felt like a six-year-old, talking too fast, tripping over her words. ‘Want you to-‘

‘Spit it out.’ Shpit, it came out.

‘Stop smoking,’ Justine blurted. ‘Cancer runs in the family. I’m scared you’re gonna get cancer, like Grandma.’ And die, she thought. I don’t want you to die.

‘Don’t get liver cancer,’ Leah rolled her eyes, ‘from smoking.’

Of course you don’t get liver cancer from smoking. Justine was not a moron. It was the predisposition to cancer she worried about. Her honors science class was doing a section on genes. Their grandmother dying of liver cancer, she’d learned, put them at risk. Justine didn’t say that, of course. She would feel like a geek. Instead, she said, stupidly, ‘You sure you’re all right?

About In Leah’s Wake

The Tylers have a perfect life-beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest daughter, Leah, an exceptional soccer player, is on track for a prestigious scholarship. Their youngest, Justine, more responsible than seems possible for her 12 years, just wants her sister’s approval. With Leah nearing the end of high school and Justine a seemingly together kid, the parents are set to enjoy a peaceful life…until everything goes wrong.

As Leah’s parents fight to save their daughter from a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties, their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Justine observes her sister’s rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family-leaving her to question whether anyone loves her and if God even knows she exists.

Can this family survive in Leah’s wake? What happens when love just isn’t enough?


Margot Livesey, award-winning author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, calls In Leah’s Wake, “A beautifully written and absorbing novel.”

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