Monday, August 17, 2015

Review of What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi.  August 4, 2015. Sourcebooks Fire.  368 pages.  Teen - Young Adult.

Smart, popular, and athletically gifted Ryden Brooks is about to start his senior year of high school and dreams of a soccer scholarship to UCLA.  However, Ryden is not your typical high school student.  In his bedroom, along with his books and athletic gear, sits a crib.  The crib his infant daughter Hope sleeps in now that his girlfriend has died and left him a single, teen father.

On top of the stress of trying to figure out how to balance fatherhood and school, Ryden struggles with the guilt over Meg's death.  Meg had cancer, and if he hadn't gotten her pregnant she would have been able to continue with her chemo treatments and would still be alive today. Instead, she is gone and Hope is here and Ryden never even had the chance to grieve. 

While struggling with his guilt and figuring out to be father, Ryden becomes convinced that Meg somehow left behind a message in her journals, something that will give him some peace.  Instead, the secrets they hold turn his world upside down.  Will he ever be able to move on?

My Thoughts
This is a very moving story about a young man dealing with very adult responsibilities and decisions, while being overwhelmed with grief and guilt.  Be warned it is a bit of a tear-jerker, but in addition to feeling sad and empathizing with the main character's grief and guilt, I also found myself feeling a little frustrated with his denial about how his plans would have to change, now that he had a daughter.  I also felt angry at Meg's parents for being so cold and refusing to even acknowledge their granddaughter's existence, much less help with her care, and angry at Meg for her selfishness. 

I like how this book is not your typical teen parent story, in that it is told from the father's point of view, and in this case it is the mother that is gone.  I also like that while Ryden had a good relationship with his mother, who knows first-hand the challenges of being a single, teen parent, and she helps and supports him, she doesn't raise the baby for him, but instead gently forces him to face up to his responsibilities and realize that he will have to make a new life that will be different from what he had planned.  Along the same vein, Meg's best friend Alan and his mom are willing to jump in and help out during a crisis, but then make it clear to Ryden that Hope is his responsibility and he cannot take advantage of Alan's friendship with Meg.

I would recommend What You Left Behind to readers who like deeply moving, realistic fiction that feature protagonists dealing with very serious issues and strong emotions and are not put-off by tear-jerkers, and readers who have a particular interest in stories dealing with teen pregnancy or teens dealing with loss, grief, and guilt.  The First Part Last by Angela Johnson also has a similar story of a teen father left to raise his daughter alone after his girlfriend has complications and ends up in an irreversible coma. 

Other Books by This Author
The Summer I Wasn't Me is about a teenage girl who is sent to a summer camp that is supposed to help her learn to suppress her same-sex attraction after her recently widowed mother learns she is gay.  My Life After Now shows how one moment of bad judgment, one bad decision, can have tremendous life-altering consequences.

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