WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND
by Robin Talley
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
Published by Harlequin Teen
Source: Publisher via Media Masters Publicity
What happens when love isn't enough to conquer all?
Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.
The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.
While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?
I wanted to read What We Left Behind from the minute I found out about it because I haven't read many books about gender identity, and I wanted to read a story about someone's life experience that was different from my own. Even though Toni's story is a fictional account of a person questioning their gender identity, I knew that the story would allow me to consider my own thoughts on how I relate and understand people. It's not that I needed this book to teach me something, but it felt like it was a book that I needed to read.
What I loved:
- The depiction of college life - the new and exciting friendships and how people you've just met can suddenly become important to you
- The depiction of college life - not everyone you meet is going to be your BFF and you still have to deal with them anyway
- The depiction of college life - balancing social life with academic life
- The flashbacks - the tell a lot about Toni and Gretchen's relationship when they were together since they were physically apart for most of the book. My favorite "before"/flashback is at the beginning of the book and we learn how Toni and Gretchen met at a Homecoming Dance
- Toni's relationship with Audrey, Toni's younger sister. Audrey is the one person in the family who Toni can be most authentic with. Toni fears judgment and Audrey offers the support Toni needs.
- The exploration of relationship dynamics. Can long distance relationships last? Can open relationships work? Can you be friends with an ex?
- The reality that there isn't a "perfect person" or a "perfect relationship" no matter how much we wish it to be.
What I found most significant about What We Left Behind is the idea that we are always trying to figure out who we are and we are always ever growing and ever changing and only we can determine who we are. Toni spends most of the book trying to find a label but discovers that any label is limiting and never quite accurate and that even the chosen label can change at any moment.
As I read, I found myself wanting to know more about Gretchen and who she was outside of her relationship with Toni. From the beginning, it felt like What We Left Behind was Toni's story and not so much Gretchen's. And having finished the book, this imbalance makes complete sense because this is where most of the conflict between Gretchen and Toni. Gretchen doesn't know who she is without Toni.
I'm so glad to have read this book and hope that I can share it with other readers and discuss it with them. What We Left Behind opens the door for readers to engage each other in conversations about gender identity and gender questioning. It certainly doesn't capture all experiences as they are all individual, but it does capture an experience that is worth reading. I enjoyed the writing, the storytelling, and the characters. This is definitely a recommended read.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated in any way other than the ARC provided. Thoughts and opinions are my own.