Published by Sourcebooks Fire on 8/4/15
Genres: Death & Dying, Social Issues, Young Adult
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, though it's not shown)
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?
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 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 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.