What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi – Review & Giveaway

August 5, 2015 Giveaways (Ended), Reviews 38 ★★★★

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi – Review & GiveawayWhat You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on 8/4/15
Genres: Death & Dying, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, though it's not shown)
My rating:
4 Stars

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, and 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?

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My Take

What You Left Behind gives us the unique perspective of a teenage single dad who is both adjusting to his new status as a father and mourning the loss of his girlfriend, who died so that their daughter Hope could be born. The book shows the difficulties and the sacrifices that have to be made in this type of situation – and it doesn’t sugar-coat the painful emotional consequences.

What I LOVED:

  • Ryden’s struggles. Ryden was NOT an amazingly heroic character. In fact, much of this book was about the mistakes that Ryden made and about his inadequacy as a parent. Ryden sometimes made selfish decisions when it came to his daughter (and his other relationships), but I thought that this was pretty realistic. After all, he was a teenage boy who had dreams and aspirations, and he wasn’t sure if he could give all of that up for his daughter, even if he did love her. He also struggled with the fact that he didn’t feel like he knew how to be a dad – a lot of the time, he didn’t even feel like his baby daughter liked him all that much. These were natural reactions for a teenage kid, and I could definitely sympathize with Ryden. On top of all that, Ryden felt responsible for Meg’s death, since he got her pregnant. So, not only was he grieving, but he felt an incredible amount of guilt as well. Ryden’s journey through all of this and his growth was compelling.
  • Ryden’s mom. I loved the relationship between Ryden and his mom. She understood Ryden’s struggles in a lot of ways because she had gotten pregnant with him when she was a teenager and had raised him as a single mom.  I loved that Ryden and his mom were close and that she supported him, but she didn’t let him off the hook or take over when it came to Hope. She let him make his own decisions, even when she disagreed with them. On the other hand, Meg’s parents were horrendous – I couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t help Ryden in any way and wanted nothing to do with their own grandchild. I got that they were grieving, but they made me so mad!

The negatives:

  • The romance. While I loved Ryden, I never quite felt completely invested in his relationship with Joni. I just didn’t see a true connection between them (especially since most of it was based on lies). Luckily, I didn’t feel like the romance was the most important part of the story, so it didn’t bother me that much that I wasn’t completely behind it – I didn’t dislike Joni and Ryden together, I just didn’t love them.
  • Meg’s choices. A lot of things are revealed throughout the book about what Meg was thinking and feeling before she died and about the choices she made, and it turned out that she was acting pretty selfishly. When I found out everything, I wasn’t quite as horrified as I maybe should have been. (It was actually Ashley’s review over at NoseGraze that made me truly think about this part of the book more – for some reason while I was reading, I really hadn’t thought a lot about what it all meant and what Meg had truly done. I know I shouldn’t be influenced by other people’s reviews – bad on me for reading one before I wrote my own – but it’s hard to unthink a thing once you’ve thought it). Again, Meg was just a teenager, so her actions could be chalked up to immaturity, but her choices had a huge impact on others, so …

In the end, I felt like this book was raw and honest. It didn’t paint a pretty picture or give us characters who make all the right choices, but it did give us a glimpse into life as a single teenage dad and the pressures and pain that go along with that situation. I give this one 4/5 stars.

***Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

 About the Author

Jessica-VerdiJessica Verdi is a young adult author who writes envelope-pushing stories about not-so-pretty real-life issues, but always with a positive spin.

Though she’s always been a bookworm (her childhood was basically defined by the philosophy that working your way through giant stacks of library books is far superior to playing outside), she remained convinced throughout high school and college that the stage—rather than the page—was meant to be her creative outlet. After nearly ten years pounding the NYC pavement auditioning for musicals (and sometimes actually getting cast in them), she got an idea for a novel. That novel was an adult magical realism story, and while it will never see the light of day—nope, don’t ask—it was the book that started her love affair with writing. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Jess received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School and works as an editor at a romance novel publisher. She loves all animals, from the cute and cuddly to the large and freakish, has been a vegetarian for most of her life, is a little too obsessed with TV shows about vampires, and has an amazing group of writer friends who keep her sane.

Jess lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and dog.

Author Links:
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38 Responses to “What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi – Review & Giveaway”

  1. Ashley

    Lovely review Nicole! It was great to see your thoughts all laid out. 🙂

    I hope you do pick up some of Jessica’s other books. My Life After Now is one of my all time favourite books. It still gives me shivers just thinking about it. It’s super powerful and all around amazeballs.
    Ashley recently posted…Vote for Your Favourite Tweak Me Design!My Profile

  2. Jenna @JinkiesBooks

    I absolutely loved this book and I must agree with everything you said here. I did not like the Ryden/Joni thing because I think he was partially looking for an excuse to not be a good dad. It was taking away from what should have been the most important part of his life. Also, she seemed the complete opposite of Meg. It was almost as though he was avoiding everything.
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  3. Joycedale Chapman

    This sounds like a book I would love. As a former single teenage mom with no help from the sperm donors family I think it would be interesting to see it happening to the father.

    • Nicole

      Wow! I feel for you. I was so mad about Meg’s parents – more upset than I was over any of the teenagers’ behavior. The parents didn’t have immaturity as an excuse! I can’t imagine living through that experience in real life.

      • Joycedale Chapman

        It all worked out, my family was a huge help. Then I got married when she was 2 and my husband adopted her. She’s 14 now so he’s been her dad as far back as she can remember.

    • Nicole

      Yeah, for some reason, I just wasn’t that connected to the romance, but it didn’t feel like the most important part of the story to me, so I was okay with it.

  4. Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books

    Awesome review. I agree with all of your points. Even though I wanted to strangle Ryden and make him realize his responsibilities, I can understand how realistic this was. I am pretty sure that most teenage parents probably don’t handle things well at first anyway. And I wasn’t horrified by Meg’s decision, but I did think it was pretty stupid and selfish. And yes, you could chalk it up to immaturity, but I am just not sure many teenage girls would have made the same one. But I guess most teenage girls don’t have to worry about dying. I did love this book though.
    Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books recently posted…BOOK REVIEW: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia HeaberlinMy Profile

    • Nicole

      Yeah, the whole death thing throws an extra wrench in everything, right? You can forgive Meg for a bit more because she was under pretty extenuating circumstances.

    • Nicole

      I did like Ryden’s mom, but I thought it was just refreshing to see a mom with an active role in a YA book in general!

  5. Cindy

    Great review! I like how you stated the pros and cons of the book, and then backed it up. I agree with all your points. Everything makes sense, and I think I will give this book a chance when it comes out.

    • Nicole

      I always try to lay out the pros and cons because you never now how other people will feel about the things that you liked or didn’t like – when you lay it out that way it’s easy for people to see your main points and decide for themselves!

    • Nicole

      Yeah – and I just read I’ll Meet You There and that one made me think of you too. Guess I’m on a roll with these books lately. 🙂

  6. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    I am constantly looking for contemporary YA with male protagonists. I can hand my students fantasy and sci fi all day long, but it can be really hard to interest a 13 year old boy in a book where a girl is trying to decide which boy she REALLY likes. I’m excited to see this one!

    • Nicole

      Yes – though this might be one that you’d have to put in your “check with the parents” section. Definitely some language and tougher topics covered, but a great book!

  7. Jaime Lester

    This book hit me right in the heart. I cannot imagine being a teenage mom, but a teenage dad? I adored Ryden, even when he was making mistakes and being selfish. And his mom was wonderful. I loved Joni, and I loved them together. All in all, this was a great read, an unexpected one, and I am so glad that I read it!

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