Author: Robin Talley
Published: October 27th 2015 by Harlequin Teen
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"From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of 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? "
Thoughts: WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a diverse coming of age novel about two people trying to figure out where they belong in this crazy world. This novel brought back so many nostalgic moments for me- What's it like leaving for college and home for the first time, what it was like being on my own, and how scary that can be. Not everyone, but I feel like most people change and start beginning to piece together who they are and will ultimately become those first two years of college. Imagine doing all those things and on top of that, being confused about whether you're meant to be who you were or someone different.
Now, I must admit, I have mixed emotions about this novel. It was a very difficult read for me, and not because of the subject matter. No, the gender identity-genderqueer theme was what originally drew me to WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND. I love diverse books and wish there were more out there. No, what irritated me, if I'm being honest, is Toni as an overall person.
The novel is split between both her and Gretchen's point of view. Toni came off as pretentious, and I felt like she spent the majority of the novel preaching and educating us, the reader, about what it's like being genderqueer. That's great, and yes, more people should enlighten others, help them understand what it's like. The only thing is, when Toni did this, it felt like being in a classroom listening to a monotone professor go on and on, and even though you're interested in the subject matter, you can't help but feel slightly bored at the way it's being explained. Toni's point of view started feeling like I was reading a non-fiction documentary instead of a fictional novel. Top all of the off with a somewhat narcissistic character, and that pretty much rounds up Toni. I understand that she's confused and that she's going through a lot, but gosh...she was just kind of a jerk sometimes, right? She's just too judgmental for my taste, and yes everyone has flaws, but I simply did not like her as a person. I can't be alone in thinking this.
Maybe my feelings for Toni are clouded, because I continually felt bad for Gretchen. She deserved better than her. You, the reader, know going in that this isn't a love story that would end well. There will be heartache, and it will most certainly be a difficult read. It's sad, yet you have to accept that people change and grow apart. Sometimes high school sweethearts last, but it's rare (and beautiful when it does). Towards the end, I kept prepping myself for the ultimate break-up, waiting for them to just tear the band-aid off. Are they really going to try to make it work or will they call a quits? When the defining scene came, instead of grief or bitterness, I felt incredibly touched. Weirdly enough, that was my favorite scene in this novel. It was wonderfully written, and I truly felt touched by both of these characters.
These are two people I will not be forgetting anytime soon.
About the author: Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves (September 2014) and What We Left Behind (October 2015), grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
Giveaway: The fabulous people at Harlequin Teen are giving away 3 finished copies of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND. To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Special thanks to the fabulous Hannah from Irish Banana Tours for organizing this amazing tour.
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