About the Book
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?
I’ll keep this brief… because if that synopsis doesn’t grab you and make you want to read this book, like, yesterday, then I’m not sure what else I could possibly say to grab your attention!
What You Left Behind is unusual in the increasingly crowded field of contemporary young adult fiction: It’s a teen drama full of loss and hope, told not through the eyes of the tragically dying Meg or by new love interest Joni, but by Ryden himself. I don’t recall reading any other YA novels recently with a male narrator who’s experienced anything quite like Ryden. Age 17, high school senior, father. Bereaved as a teen without every really getting to start a life with the girl he loved. Work, school, soccer, trying to be a good dad, trying to be a good son, and still trying to understand what really happened with Meg.
You can’t help but love Ryden. He didn’t ask for any of this. Meg insisted on keeping the pregnancy, even though it meant going without chemo for all those months. All Ryden wanted was to love Meg and do anything in his power to keep her healthy… and here he is six months after her death, stressed out, feeling like a terrible father, having to face the reality that the life he thought he was meant for is now forever out of reach.
Jessica Verdi’s writing is beautiful in its heartfelt sorrow and frustration and bitterness. Ryden is a giant mess, and he screws up a lot — but I challenge any reader not to feel complete sympathy with him. He’s in a horrible situation, and even though he has an amazing mother who supports him wholeheartedly, his life really does suck at the moment when we first meet him. Watching him go through the process of grieving and figuring things out and finally starting to see a glimmer of hope is painful. Ryden’s emotions are raw and brutal, and he makes some big mistakes, and really doesn’t understand the world around him or what his new life really is a lot of the time. But it’s impossible to blame him for anything. He’s in a horrible situation, not of his making, and — he’s only 17! He’s bound to make mistakes, but I can’t help but admire the courage and grit he shows in just waking up and moving forward day after day.
The author knows how to get inside a teen’s head and explore all the contradictory wants and needs lurking there. The writing doesn’t condescend and doesn’t shy away from showing the good, the bad, and the ugly. The story didn’t necessarily go where I thought it would, but I was invested every step of the way and couldn’t look away.
My only complaint is that the author made me care so much about these characters that I wanted more at the end. I like the ending of the book very much, which makes it clear that a new chapter is just beginning and that Ryden finally has a path ahead of him that can lead to happiness. But (and maybe this is the mom in me speaking!), I wanted to know more. I really want to know what Ryden’s life is like in a year, in two years, and in five. What happens next? What does he decide to do with himself? How does he grow as a person and as a father? I think it’s a testament to the power of this novel that I feel invested enough to have so many questions.
Bottom line: If you enjoy contemporary YA fiction that deals with tough subjects with honesty and emotion, don’t miss What You Left Behind. And for more by Jessica Verdi, check out her excellent previous novel, The Summer I Wasn’t Me (reviewed here).
What You Left Behind–
About the Author
Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. Her favorite pastimes include singing show tunes at the top of her lungs (much to her husband’s chagrin), watching cheesy TV, and scoring awesome non-leather shoes in a size 5. She’s still trying to figure out a way to put her uncanny ability to remember both song lyrics and the intricacies of vampire lore to good use. Follow Jess on Twitter @jessverdi.
Connect with Jessica Verdi
Website – http://jessicaverdi.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/JessVerdi
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorjessicaverdi
Title: What You Left Behind
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: August 4, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire