Families are complicated beasts, sometimes more so when aging parents have died and adult children are left to navigate the shifting boundaries of their new extended family. Kylie Ladd explores this issue so well in her new novel I’ll Leave You With This (Penguin Random House 2023).

With empathy, compassion and warmth, Ladd doesn’t shy away from examining the conflict, tension and drama that make up families, or the serious issues that can make or break relationships.

The four O’Shea sisters are all different and all complicated in their own ways. The youngest, Emma, in her twenties, has always felt like the odd one out. She is alone, and lonely, and has turned to God for guidance. Steady Clare, a nurse, is so consumed with her desire to have a child that she has spent years, energy, focus and too much money trying to succeed with IVF, so much so that her wife has left her because Clare has no room in her life for anyone or anything else but that desire. Bridie is a prize-winning film director but hasn’t had work for over a decade; she now accompanies her rising star husband on the red carpet but wishes it was her receiving the accolades. And the oldest, Allison, is an obstetrician who has always put everyone else’s needs before her own but finds it difficult to juggle work and family life.

The absent child, the one missing from the picture, is Daniel, their only brother, somehow made more present by the fact that he is not there. He was funky and fun and a fashion designer going places, but he also had his own foibles. When he was killed three years earlier, his death left the sisters broken, each grieving in their own way, each bereft. The anniversary of his death is always difficult but on the third year, one of the sisters proposes an idea: that they should trace the recipients of their brother’s donated organs, perhaps in an attempt to gain some meaning from his death, to understand the enormity of his gifts of life to others, and to bring the sisters back together again. As you can imagine, this proposal is greeted by the full gambit of reactions from negative to positive.

Despite the heavy content, this is a light-hearted and moving book that uses wit, humour, honesty, reality and the minutia of day-to-day life to keep the reader fully engaged with these characters, their hopes and dreams and fears, and with this family as a whole. And the serious content is explored with sensitivity and hope. Organ donation is such an important issue and can make such a difference to so many people. This book will certainly make you consider pledging to become a donor, if you haven’t already. The sheer number of recipients assisted by Daniel’s gift astounded me.

The intricate and intimate discussion around conception, pregnancy, IVF and miscarriage is also explored with empathy, as Ladd prompts discussion around all sides of the debate, and looks at the repercussions (of failure and of success) from the points of view of all involved.

I’ll Leave You With This is a pacey read, with dialogue and behaviour that feels very authentic. Diversity of all shades is included but never in a way that feels forced, but rather represents the world in which we live. The characters are really put through some difficult situations – Ladd challenges them from all sides – and the result is an interesting and thought-provoking reminder that life is not easy for some, that life can change in an instant, that dreams and ambitions are meant to be pursued, and that helping someone you care about – or even helping a complete stranger – might just be the best thing you ever do.