What You Left Behind – Jessica Verdi – Sourcebooks – Published 4 August 2015
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?
When I started this book I knew it was going to be devastating. I mean, look at the summary! I liked that it was raw and heartbreaking but was pleased that it was equally hopeful.
Ryden’s life changed the day his girlfriend told him she was pregnant. And then Meg decided to stop her chemotherapy in order to keep the baby. Now Ryden is struggling to manage feeding times and teething problems, grieving Meg, sorting out child care, starting his senior year of high school and making it to soccer practice on time. When he meets Joni with her tie-dyed overalls and ability to make friends wherever she goes, Ryden gets a taste of light and fun he was desperately missing. But keeping his real life a secret is not easy, especially with his past is set to change everything.
Ryden reads like a truly typical teenage boy (I’m assuming, not being a teenage boy myself). He is really struggling with the loss of Meg, but mostly he wishes his life would go back to normal, where he only had to worry about soccer and girls and school and college applications and partying. But losing Meg and gaining Hope has changed all that. At the start he is really just going through the motions with Hope. He is struggling to balance all his commitments and a crying baby is simply another task with which to deal. As he learns more about his own father and Meg’s thoughts towards the end of her life, Ryden has to reevaluate what he really wants from his life.
I really liked Meg, even though she is already dead at the start of the book. We get to meet her through flashbacks that Ryden replays or through reading sections of her journal. It was hard, at the start, to imagine Ryden with anyone else. About the time Ryden notices Jodi as something more than the crazy girl at work was the time I started to like the possibility of more between them. As the feeling of impending doom builds in this book, you can feel Ryden get closer to breaking point and you know everything is going either fall apart or blow up completely. At this point my views about Meg and Ryden and Joni were all changed. I really felt for Ryden. I spent half of the book unsure if I wanted to shake some sense into him or give him a hug. I certainly wished I could help him out in someway, but he does pretty well on his own, with a little (or lots) of help from his mother, Joni, and Meg’s best friend and sister. Ryden is a character that has you cheering for him from the start.
This was a novel that was equally challenging and touching. It doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships Ryden is facing and the change in the characters over the course of the book was refreshing and hopeful.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Teenage parents, teenage pregnancy, cancer, grief, family, romance, relationships.
Age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Frequent coarse language, including f***, s*** and like variations. Characters discuss sex and there are implied sexual situations. Violence – one character is beaten up, no graphic details. Underage drinking, excessive alcohol consumption for the purpose of getting drunk.
Published: 4 August 2015 by Sourcebooks.
Format: Hardcover, paperback. 320 pages.