Sunday, April 24, 2016
Review: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: 4 August 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia
Jessica Verdi, the author of My Life After Now and The Summer I Wasn't Me, returns with a heartbreaking and poignant novel of grief and guilt that reads like Nicholas Sparks for teens.
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?
"Ryden's story is a moving illustration of how sometimes you have to let go of the life you planned to embrace the life you've been given. A strong, character-driven story that teen readers will love."-Carrie Arcos, National Book Award Finalist for Out of Reach (summary from Goodreads)
A raw and realistic story.
What You Left Behind is full of highs and lows, so much so I'm still in turmoil myself trying to write this review. Sometimes I think that I didn't like this one, but then I think about the emotion of the story and how it deserves a good review for getting me so riled up. It's just that the emotions I felt weren't always positive is all. I remember my anger over What You Left Behind the most, and that also clouds my judgement. But it is a good thing, really. It took me a while to get into this book, which also didn't help. I'm not sure what exactly, but something about Verdi's writing style was really off-putting. I put What You Left Behind down a number of times because of it and honestly, sometimes considered leaving it as a DNF. But I persevered because I wanted to know how Ryden and Hope end up, and soon enough I did get used to the writing and could get into the story. In saying that though, I then found it obvious what twist Verdi was veering towards and that too became off-putting because I just kept getting frustrated waiting for Ryder and Co to finally clue in. So yeah, What You Left Behind was at times a struggle. Plus, the twist really pissed me off. Not because it was bad story wise or anything, but emotionally it led to me getting very ranty! And that's the thing. I do like that I felt connected enough to Verdi's story, the very serious topics she tackles, and her characters, that I got emotionally invested. Even if most of those feelings were more on the negative end of the spectrum. What You Left Behind is certainly thought-provoking, and I appreciated all the ways Verdi had me questioning her characters and their situations, asking "What would I do?" in their place. I admit, I rolled my eyes some and felt frustrated at what I personally consider some seriously terrible and selfish choices, but I've done my best to not hold that against the book as a whole because I think Verdi did succeed in writing something real and honest.
So I'm just going to put it out there - I hated Meg. I kind of feel bad about that, as hating the girl who died of cancer having a baby at only 17 feels quite mean. But then any time I think of Meg I remember my anger and bye bye guilt. While philosophically I do understand Meg, I guess, I'm still all the 'nopes' in the world about her. Nope, nope, nope! No love for Meg here. I also seriously hated her parents. Argh, so much rage at these characters! Remind me they're fictional, yes? I can't say I was the biggest fan of Ryder either, but at least I grew to like him somewhat. I felt for what he was going through, even if I did want to shake him every other minute. It was a tough situation and his struggles and feelings, though they frustrated me, were still genuine and heart-wrenching. It was nice reading his growth as a person and a father. I did actually love some of Verdi's characters too. I adored Ryder's mother, Deanna. I always enjoy reading about parents that are present in YA, it seems to occur few and far between. Her support of Ryder, the way in which she was there but also how she stood back to ensure he found his own way was such a great portrayal. I loved Joni too. She was quirky and fun, knew herself, and I really liked how her acceptance and support came into play. There's no sugar coating the choice to be in a relationship with someone who has a child and Verdi illustrated that well.
There's ups and downs and many mixed emotions to What You Left Behind. I think I liked it. I still say think! It's one you need to read and decide for yourself.