Published by: Sourcebooks Fire on August 4, 2015
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
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?
It breaks my heart to review What You Left Behind. As a huge lover of Jessica Verdi’s previous books I was RIDICULOUSLY psyched for this one and thought it would be a slam dunk. In fact, I had zero doubts.
Even when I started reading What You Left Behind, I still had zero doubts. At first, I was loving it! But somewhere around 50%-ish, it collapsed. There were three major reasons, some more forgiveable than others.
1. Ryden… take care of your damn baby.
This is the most forgiveable of the three. Ryden made a few bad and stupid decisions with regards to his daughter, Hope.
- He avoided spending time with her.
- He didn’t make an effort.
- He tried to dump Hope on other people (not permanently, but roped other people into watching her, etc.).
- He sent her to cheap, scary ass daycare.
While I hated Ryden’s decisions, I kind of forgave him for it. I got where he was coming from (not actually, I wasn’t a teenage parent, but I could imagine). He was a stupid teenager who suddenly became a father. He couldn’t cope with giving up his whole life (college, sports, his dreams, etc.) for her. So I get that he kept putting himself above Hope. It’s maybe not the best choice, but I understand why he kept making it. Plus, these shitty decisions were necessary for his character development.
2. No offence, Joni, but I don’t like you.
Joni, Joni, Joni. She becomes like the saviour. She’s Ryden’s escape from Hope, and possible love interest View Spoiler » [okay, definite love interest « Hide Spoiler] .
But here’s the thing: I didn’t like her.
She’s just one of those characters I never clicked with. When it comes to romance, that’s kind of a must for me. I can’t get behind a romance if I’m SERIOUSLY not clicking with one of the characters. It was a major case of I’m just not that into you.
3. What the actual fuck was that??
Oh god, here’s the big one. The one that tanked the whole story for me. And sadly, it’s one big fat spoiler (boo).View Spoiler » [
At the end, we find out that Meg got pregnant on purpose.
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK???
She wrote in her journal admitting this, and spouted a bunch of bull shit about wanting to leave behind a legacy.
LEGACY MY ASS! Here’s the ugly truth of what went down:
- She got intimate with a man. He said, “Oh crap, I forgot a condom,” clearly worried about pregnancy and STDs. She lied to his face by saying she was on the pill, because she was INTENDING to get pregnant, all while knowing she was going to die.
- She got pregnant and kept acting like it was some big mistake.
- She gave birth and died (as she claimed to know would happen all along).
- She intentionally left Ryden behind as a single, teenage dad.
She went into this whole thing KNOWING she was going to leave Ryden as a single, teenage dad. She knew he had dreams to play sports and go to college. She literally DESTROYED those dreams.
Lying to someone and using them to get pregnant is bad enough. That’s horrible. But when you do it KNOWING that you’re going to also make them a single parent.. what the bloody fuck is that? She wanted to create a legacy but knew she wasn’t going to be around to help raise it.
I can’t even.
This was just one of those things there was no coming back from. It clouded my opinion of the entire story. It’s like I saw red and then couldn’t see anything else. I hated Meg and her spoiled asshat decisions with every fibre of my being.
Oh, what could have been…
What You Left Behind wasn’t a horrible book. I liked it a lot at the beginning. I like Ryden’s struggle—it felt super real and I could feel for the poor guy. It was a heart wrenching, confusing situation for sure.
I also loved Ryden’s mother—she was easily my favourite character! She was so incredibly supportive and probably the exact definition of a “cool mom”.
But there were a few things (#3 in particular!) that just destroyed this book for me. My enjoyment slowly sloped downward, then plummeted.
Have you ever had one character or event kill your enjoyment of an entire book?
Oh man, I’m sorry, Ashley! I actually have never read anything by Verdi but perhaps I’ll just try her previous two books that she’s written. I can see how you didn’t like Ryden, but at least his struggles were realistic. I didn’t look at the spoilers, but it sucks when you’re just not that into the love interest! Thanks for your honest thoughts, Ashley! I’ll probably be skipping this one.
Her first one, My Life After Now is one of my all time favourites! It’s sooo incredibly powerful.
I’m not a YA reader normally, but based on the blurb, cover and title, I may have picked it up. In a word – YIKES! I get that he’s a kid, but putting the little one in a scary day care situation sounds a little creepy, and once you have a child, I’m looking for some growth in the character. I agree with you that the connection is totally necessary for me to get through the book, and this may have ended up on the DNF pile. On a side note, your review is too dang funny! (lol) Hugs…Ro
Yeah he’s given a choice like this:
1. Send her to a nice, personal, safe day care that’s far away, which will impact your amount of free time for playing sports (because of the commute).
2. Send her to a sketchy, poorly funded, close by day care that has like a 20-1 kid-to-adult ratio and METAL DETECTORS to get inside.
He goes with #2 because he wants more time to play sports. And even when he gets there at one point, he sees his crying daughter being ignored (because all the adults are busy with other kids) and yet he STILL keeps sending her there. It’s so sad.
Bahahahahahaha I didn’t read review but your subtitle “what the actual fuck was that?” Cracked me up!
I like looking at and reading spoilers, and I have to say, that final #3 reasons is reason enough for me not to bother with this book. I haven’t read any of her work previously, but that whole thing would just ruin this book for me – it has ruined it, and I don’t blame you at all. Man, this sucks. I won’t be reading this, but thank you for your review anyway 🙂
Her other books have similar controversial topics (a camp for making people not gay anymore, and a teenage girl who gets HIV), but they’ve all been incredibly powerful and fantastic. Until now, none of them had a super horrible element like this that made me despise everything. I’m so upset!! Her first book, My Life After Now is literally one of my all time favourites.
No!!! I have this up next to read and I’m so looking forward to it. In the name of an open mind, I skimmed your review but that sucks that when you love an author’s work and then something comes along and you’re so mad at the characters that you can’t enjoy the writing – FAIL!! Ugh 🙁
I’ll probably end up liking it b/c we’re reading opposites – HA!
Well I REALLY hope we’re opposites here and that you love it! Jessica is super awesome as an author and a person, and I desperately wish I could have loved this book. So I’ll be super happy if you love it. 🙂
I HATE it when a character/s actions ruin the entire book, it’s just so frustrating! I feel you pain 😉 Sad to hear that this book was a disappointment, gosh the characters in this book don’t look very clever? So I think I might just give this one a pass.
Yeah I hate that too. 🙁 Even if the overarching story is still good, a single character can just ruin it for me and there’s no turning back!
It’s funny because your WTF moment didn’t bug me as much as it did you when I was reading the book (maybe because I had figured it out WAY ahead of time), but now that I’m reading your review, I’m thinking, “She’s totally right!” WHY did this not make me angrier when I read it? Hmmm ….
I actually really liked Ryden despite his horrible decisions (I didn’t mind the daycare thing as much because he was basically given the choice to give up his life dream or not – it wasn’t just like he was a casual soccer player, since that was his ticket to college and his hope for his eventual career). But I agree that I was not all that keen on Joni.
Great review! Thanks for making me think!
I thought it weird that the book didn’t really address it in the way I thought it would. No one ever really mentioned how selfish it was that she knowingly destroyed someone’s life. They talked about the “legacy” part and leaving behind part of herself and all that… But no one REALLY called her out for being malicious, manipulative, and actually ruining a poor guy’s life.
I mean, yes, he loves his daughter in the end. But no one (or very few people…) CHOOSE to be a teenage parent. It’s a bloody tough job and you have to give up your life, dreams, and ambitions to do it.
I just can’t get over how selfish the whole thing is!! AHHH!! LOL!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Nicole. 🙂
Oh no! So sorry you didn’t enjoy this book. I actually just finished this book and actually really enjoyed it. I agree with you though, Ryden definitely didn’t take too much care of Hope but he had such a full schedule I can’t blame him. Great review! 🙂
I’m so glad you loved it Kaitlin! I really WANTED to love it, so it makes me happy to see that someone else did. 🙂
Oh, so sad. It’s one thing to be disappointed by a book but quite another to be disappointed by an author you’ve read and enjoyed before.
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Okay, usually I avoid spoilers but in this case I didn’t. And holy crap there is NO way I am picking up this book. Seriously??!?!? I feel so bad for Ryden right now and I haven’t even read the book 🙁 I’m sorry this was such a disappointment but thanks for the great review 🙂
ISN’T IT INSANE???
And the worst part is, I feel like she 100% got away with it. The book never really addressed the problem behind her actions… at least not thoroughly. I still can’t even believe it.
I still definitely recommend Jessica’s other books if you haven’t read them yet! Particularly My Life After Now. That’s an amazing one! One of my all time favourites.
Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll definitely check it out 😀