Today is the release date for the amazing young adult contemporary, What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi! I am very excited to be posting my review and partaking in the blog tour for this book. I don’t think I can recommend a book more than I recommend this one.
It’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.
The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions. Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?
Confession time, I broke my TBR list to read this one almost the minute I got approved for it on NetGalley. I moved it to the top of the list and accidentally read it in one sitting. I regret nothing.
There’s a lot of uniqueness to What You Left Behind. In this book, the main character and narrator is Ryden, a teenage boy. He is entering his senior year, working towards a soccer scholarship, all the while raising his infant daughter. This, to me is the biggest selling point for What You Left Behind. Sure, we get a few contemporary YAs with male narrators but I can’t think of one where there’s a child involved and it is the teenage dad who is the sole parent.
Ryden’s daughter is named Hope and her mother, Meg, is dead. She became pregnant with Hope while she was receiving treatment for cancer and upon finding out she was pregnant, ceased treatment so that she could have the baby. Unfortunately, Meg died before she could even meet Hope and now Ryden is raising her with the help of his mom. Ryden is under an enormous amount of pressure and stress because he is so unsure of himself. He doesn’t really feel like a father. His own father let before he was born and so he feels like he’s missing a connection that would make things click for him when it comes to parenting.
Ryden as a person is pretty cool. He’s somewhat jockish, but not the stereotypical jock assholes we are used to. He’s trying so hard to figure things out with the future and with Hope and come to terms with Meg’s death and all the while he’s able to keep things light, sarcastic, and funny.
“Oh. My. God. Ryden. She. Is. Adorable!” ‘Adorable’ comes out in a highpitched squeal, and my poor, battered eardrums cringe.
“Um. Thanks.” It feels weird taking credit for something like that. All I did was have sex with Meg. Genetics did the rest. -8% through eARC
Ryden finds a list in one of Meg’s old journals which leads him on a hunt for the ones that she left behind for her sister, her best friend, and Ryden. This hunt consumes him. It becomes very obvious to the reader that he is not over Meg’s death and hasn’t really dealt with it at all. As he discovers the journals, he begins to hit a low point where he wonders what the point of it all is.
But we’re miniscule. We mean nothing. And even in our own world, we don’t stick around that long. Not long enough to matter. You’re born–more likely than not an unintended byproduct of your parents wanting to get laid–you do some stuff, and then you die. You get sick, you get hit by a train, you get old and fall apart. It all ends the same way. And that’s it. Then your kids get horny, have a kid, and the cycle starts again. -29% through eARC
When Ryden eventually discovers all of the journals he’s hit with a massive truth bomb that is so freaking tragic and makes you so sad for him. I was very close to crying when he unveils the secrets Meg left behind because of the sheer skill with which the emotion was written. (And I don’t cry during books.)
The majority of the book is Ryden trying to decipher Meg’s journals and secrets but there is a small romance aspect that comes from his coworker who knows nothing about him, Meg, or Hope. It’s a breath of fresh air for him when he doesn’t have to deal with pity from a person. He genuinely likes Joni but of course he starts a relationship by keeping secrets so he’s an idiot in that aspect. Since the romance wasn’t the focus of the story, this little tidbit didn’t bother me too much but had this been more Ryden-Joni romance focused I’m not sure I would’ve been on board.
I think I loved most everything about What You Left Behind. It was a unique story and was executed perfectly. I enjoyed the character arc that Ryden takes throughout the course of the book as well as the suspense of his journey for Meg’s journals and secrets she left behind.
There is one thing that I want/wanted more of and that is a Meg novella or companion novel. We get to hear a great deal about her from the journals that Ryden reads however, I am very intrigued by her. There is so much more than meets the eye with Meg. You go from feeling sorry for her, to hating her, to admiring her. She might be my favorite character and we don’t even get to actually meet her. She is the past of the present in this book.
She just stared at, like I was slow.
“What?” I asked.
“Because it’s hopeful, you dumbass. She’s stuck inside her”–she rubbed her hand over her belly, linking her fingers with mine–“in this sick, all-wrong body, not getting the best start, you know? And…” She took a deep breath. “And I really don’t know if she’ll be okay, Ryden.” Her lower lip started to wobble. “But I really hope she will.” -21% through eARC
I could go on and on about how much I loved this book but for the sake of not sounding too rave-y and rant-y, I’ll leave it at this. If you want to know more about What You Left Behind, I’d love to chat or answer any question you have!
“Anyway, Mabel’s going to steal Meg’s ashes from her house, and we’re going to say a few words and scatter them there. You want to come?”
“Hold up–Mabel’s going to steal her ashes? Are you fucking crazy? Is she fucking crazy?”
Finally a logical response to this insane plan. “Uh, I guess?”
I can almost see Alan shaking his head in the silence that follows. But then he says, “You bet your ass I’ll be there.” -95% through eARC
Review in Review:
What You Left Behind will go down as one of my favorite contemporaries ever. It features a unique story that breaks the stereotypes we’re so often used to not only in books, TV, and movies, but in real life as well. This book will make you feel just about everything from deep, deep sorrow to all-consuming rage. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry (or almost cry). I don’t think I can recommend a book more than I do this one.
About the Author:
Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. Her favorite pastimes include singing show tunes at the top of her lungs (much to her husband’s chagrin), watching cheesy TV, and scoring awesome non-leather shoes in a size 5. She’s still trying to figure out a way to put her uncanny ability to remember both song lyrics and the intricacies of vampire lore to good use. Follow Jess on Twitter @jessverdi.