Nature and nurture often comes up as to why people turn out the way they turn out – does your book touch on this?

Question from Jessica ( by email

Very much so. Personality, behavior, the way people turn out, results from a combination of nature and nurture. We’re born with a certain personality; good parenting can shape us, help us control negative tendencies like impulsivity, and teach us to make the most of our talents.

In the book, Leah rebels. Part of this is her nature – she’s strong-willed and stubborn. She’s also rebelling against outside pressure to conform and achieve. As long as she lives up to the expectations of others, she’s accepted, even celebrated. As soon as she tries to take control of her own life, questions the rules, spreads her wings, she meets resistance.

Rather than listen to Leah, accept that she’s growing up and her choices may differ from theirs, and guide her, Zoe and Will pull the reins tighter. This is a classic problem with teens. The minute we tell them no, they can’t do something, they focus their energy in that very direction. The more Zoe and Will try to control Leah’s behavior, the more she pulls away. Escalating attempts to control her result in her getting more and more out of control. That’s a difficult cycle to break – perhaps the irony in many relationships between parents and teens.

In a few scenes, Zoe and Will argue about nature and nurture. Zoe, a therapist, blames Leah’s rebellion on poor parenting. Will also accepts some responsibility, but he believes that nature also plays a role in determining outcome.

The oak tree outside the palladium window had grown taller than the house. Ten years ago, the tree had begun to attain its girth, the low branches ten or twelve feet in length. Zoe pictured Leah, at seven, begging for a rope swing. A rope swing was dangerous, they’d told her, knowing the instant Will hung the swing Leah would be climbing on the rail of the deck, leaping like Tarzan into the air.

Please, Leah begged. A rope swing would be so fun. Mom? Dad? Pretty please? With sugar on top? Finally, they’d given in. The rope swing was dangerous. They should have stood their ground. Their waffling confused her; they’d taught her, essentially, that she was in charge. With persistence, she could break them.

Zoe heard her name and turned, surprised to see Will with his guitar, the leather strap slung over his shoulder. ‘You found your guitar?’

When Will stopped playing, Justine ran off to call her friend Holly.

‘I miss her,’ Zoe said. ‘It’s not the same without her. I miss her so much.’

‘I’ve always thought she’d do something great. Run the UN. Find a cure for cancer. All that energy.’ He grinned. ‘She’ll be back,’ he said. ‘I believe that.’

‘I hope so.’ Distracted by a shushing noise, she glanced at the window – melted snow slid off the tree in a shower. ‘Remember the rope swing?’

‘How could I not? Damn thing was a bear to put up.’

‘She was such a daredevil,’ Zoe said-and there was Leah, soaring over the yard, shrieking joyfully, her legs outstretched, one hand gripping the rope. ‘I was sure she’d fall and break her neck. Got to the point where I couldn’t watch her play.’

‘And that big wheel. Remember how she used to stand on the seat?’

‘No wonder she’s the way she is.’ A strong-willed child like Leah needed solid boundaries. By giving in to her demands, they’d taught their daughter that her will was stronger than theirs. By pushing, haunting, she’d eventually get her way. Children aren’t equipped to take charge. Predictably, she’d lost control. ‘We should’ve stuck to our guns,’ Zoe said.

Will laid his guitar on the floor, and pushed himself up.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To my office,’ he said flatly.

Sure, she thought, walk away. Don’t talk about Leah. Don’t talk, period. Pretend their daughter hadn’t run away. Will had regained steam at work, was selling again. Justine was fine, thank you very much. If you don’t want to talk, fine. She did.

‘I’m just trying to make sense of this. Listen to me,’ she said to his back. He didn’t have to gush over her. ‘I expect common courtesy. Will, I’m talking to you.’

His shoulders rose and fell in agitation. Or maybe it was resignation in his stiff posture and labored breath. Or maybe rage.

‘Damn it.’ She poked his shoulder. ‘Look at me.’

He brushed her hand away. ‘What do you want from me?’

Want? Nothing. ‘I just want a friend.’

He threw up his hands. ‘I am your friend.’

‘Like hell you are.’

He squeezed by her, shaking his head.

She watched him shuffle across the family room. His jeans sagged. ‘I thought you said you were going up to your office?’

He turned, and she noticed his sharp cheekbones, his hollow eyes. When had he lost so much weight? His jaw had gone slack. My God, she thought, he looks old.

‘We should have stayed on top of her. That’s all I meant.’

He ran a finger across the top row of CDs, selected one, and held it up. ‘You like this one, right?’ He loaded the Albert King CD and hit play.

‘I’ll Play the Blues for You,’ the title song. She hugged herself, listening.

‘Come here,’ he said, and reached for her hand.

She stepped back, crossing her arms. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t.’
‘Don’t do this to yourself, Zo. Don’t do it to us.’

‘A kid doesn’t just wake up a rebel. It happens a day at a time.’

‘Hemingway-‘ gradually, then all at once.’

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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