Book review: I’ll Leave You With This, Kylie Ladd

A heart-breaking, spirited story about the strength of a brother’s legacy

Kylie Ladd’s I’ll Leave You With This is an energised character-driven story. It begins with the third anniversary of Daniel O’Shea’s tragic death, held at the restaurant where he had been heading on the day of the incident.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of his four surviving sisters, and we meet Daniel through their memories. Each of the sisters processes their grief in wildly different ways, but common to their experiences is endurance. Their lives haven’t stopped, but each must learn how to keep prevailing while bringing their brother’s memory along with them.

A question that leaps into play from the moment we encounter the sisters is whether they will be able to bridge the gaps between them. These gaps also existed when Daniel was alive, but back then he had been the glue that kept them together. He was involved in their lives, which gave the sisters reasons to be involved with each other.

When Clare announces that she’d like to reach out to Daniel’s donor organ and tissue recipients, not all her siblings support her. But even after death, Daniel has a role to play. Reflecting on his love of attention and human interaction encourages them to imagine what he would have wanted and see things differently.

Because I’ll Leave You With This is written in close third person, readers are able to intimately bond with characters while also witnessing them from a slight distance. By the end of the story, I felt like a proud parent.

Ladd has created a cast of distinct, and often surprising, protagonists. For example, often I believed a character’s choices were headed in a certain direction – surely Emma’s gearing up to reject her religion? – and then I’d be proven wrong. I’ll Leave You With This gives us the opportunity to reflect on how the presumptions we make can be based on our own imposed values and desires.

It’s fitting for Emma that she outgrows an institution while retaining her faith. It’s fitting that obstetrician Alison, in choosing to spend more time with her children, steps back from her professional commitments. Meanwhile, when Bridie realises that Clare’s project of contacting Daniel’s donor recipients could provide her with her next big break as a filmmaker she doesn’t let up. But she learns to factor her sisters’ feelings into her plans and experience the worth of their support.

I was less convinced by the situation initially handed to Clare. Her partner Sophie leaves her, fed up with their failed IVF attempts and being made to feel that she’s not enough for Clare. But the framing of Sophie’s rejection deserves more examination. It feels as if the reader is expected to too easily accept her rationale, which (perhaps unintentionally) draws upon notions that queer individuals should be content in their relationships without children. So while Sophie’s reasons for leaving Clare are warranted, they also lean into a stereotype and feel a bit reductive.

However, what is well handled is the development of Clare’s attributes. How she is described early on is informed by how she projects her self-image to the world. By the end, however, she is no longer the pitiful sister, with plain looks and bad fashion. She isn’t just a queer character struggling and experiencing an absence of joy. The reader is able to regard her in a new light, because she has been able to pursue the things important to her.

Much of the pleasure of I’ll Leave You With This is the chance to perceive the whole story through the compiled perspectives of the sisters. The reader witnesses who leave things out, who steps up, who is wise or challenged and how, ultimately, everyone reaches for one another in the end.

Read: Book review: Dress Rehearsals, Madison Godfrey

An emphasis on the characters making their own choices and their own way is the book’s greatest strength. I can visualise Ladd creating her characters in consultation with them seated at her writing desk. 

I’ll Leave You With This, Kylie Ladd
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9780143778950

Pages: 336pp
Publication Date: 31 January 2023
RRP: $32.99

Megan Payne is a writer and dancer based on Wurundjeri Land. They study Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT University, and are an associate editor with The Suburban Review.