Published: August 4th 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?
My Rating: 4.5/5 (Amazing)
Genre(s): Contemporary, Young-Adult
Page Count [hardcover]: 320
Thank you Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
Hello! Today I have a review on What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi, a stunningly touching and unique YA contemporary novel. If I had to sum up this word using two words, I’d use ‘unique‘ and ‘addictive‘ because that’s exactly what it is. It’s so rare to me, in YA contemporaries, that we have the perspective of a male in a teenage pregnancy situation. Time and time again I come across books with a teenage mother, but hardly ever have I encountered a book from the viewpoint of a teenage father. And it is so often we see books about cancer making the rounds, hardly ever do we see books with a fresh take on it. But this book, provided me with exactly that. What You Left Behind was an honest, hooking and unique story from the perspective of a teenage widowed father, and put a different twist on a cancer story that I really enjoyed.
Everything fell apart when Meg died from cancer and left behind a baby girl. Hope. And Meg’s death seemed to be all Ryden’s fault. After all, he got her pregnant, which caused her to stop her chemo treatment, her one chance to overcome her cancer and survive. Meg’s parents seem to agree, and offers no help in providing support for Hope. Now Ryden has financial issues as he tries to deal with taking care of Hope and getting to soccer practice as he’s aiming to earn an athletic scholarship. The only bright spot in everything is Joni. But with Ryden being unable to let go of Meg, how will he ever be able to move on?
The plot is honest, un-sugarcoated and emotional. It’s a touching story and I really loved it! What I loved most about it was the unique perspective. Kudos to Jessica Verdi for tackling a different side of a common book trope in an interesting and engaging way! I really enjoyed reading from the point of view of a male teenager who has to take care of a baby; that is quite rare I find, and Jessica Verdi pulled it off! I was completely immersed in the plot, and I never wanted to stop reading. It was a cute romance while still being an emotional story portraying the struggles in life, both happy and sad, which was great to read.
I really loved Ryden as a narrator. He wasn’t perfect, and often there were times where I wanted to slap him across the face so that he would wake up and make things right. One of the times being how he completely neglects his daughter, I really wished he treated her better and that there were more love between the two. That did bug me, but really, in the end I simply couldn’t dislike him. I understood his struggles. I felt bad for him. I mean, what 17 year-old teenage boy wants to be stuck taking care of a baby almost single-handedly when he could be playing soccer for a scholarship?
Ryden’s definitely not going to be coming first in any selflessness contests anytime soon; his tendency of putting what he wanted above the needs of others was frustrating, but by the end he goes through a lot of development and became a better person. Also, there was the fact that his pain over losing Meg was simply so strong, so real, I couldn’t just not sympathize with him. Jessica Verdi did a great job at creating a character that is a realistic portrayal of a teenage father, a character who, while made a lot of mistakes, and was sometimes annoying, still was able to earn my compassion, understanding and sympathy.
Joni, the main female character in the novel, was great too. She was feisty and a strong, independant woman who was perfect for Ryden. I liked the relationship between her and Ryden, they had great chemistry, but more than that, her personality was simply a lot of fun. I really liked how Joni was portrayed; not a stereotypical girl you encounter in contemporaries, but a lively and real person who is unafraid in standing up for herself.
The other characters were very well-done. I especially loved Ryden’s mother and her role in the story. Even though she didn’t have a particularly large role, her constant support of Ryden and his baby Hope was simply so heart-warming and had a pretty big impact in Ryden’s character development. I loved how she wasn’t MIA in the story; she was present and really did the best she could to help out and show her son that he could still be a great father despite lacking a maternal presence by his side.
“Finding someone you can really connect with is like winning the lottery—It happens basically never, but if it does, you really shouldn’t blow it.”
The writing style was great; it was light but thoughtful, fun and well-suited for the story. The writing really reflected Ryden’s thoughts effectively, his emotions were strong and clear, and I really enjoyed reading it.
“I still don’t quite get how each one of those stars is actually a sun, burning up its own part of the universe. It seems incomprehensible that something that big, that complex, that infinite, is out there, while we’re here on this stupid planet, watching reality shows and waiting in line for the new iPhone and buying all the chia seeds in the Whole Foods because some article told us it was trendy, thinking we’re tough shit, like any of it means anything.”
There was also an undertone of dry humour throughout the book that I really enjoyed reading. That’s to be expected, as the story is told from the perspective of a 17 year-old teenager, and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint! The writing was really fun to read.
I recommend this book to readers of contemporary and romance, and for readers who are looking for a fresh page in YA contemporary. This book provides you with a twist on two popular and overused storylines; teenage pregnancy and cancer. While you have to face a main character who sometimes makes extremely selfish and bad decisions, in the end it’s worth it. The main character, Ryden, does make bad decisions, but you can’t help but feel sorry for him, and understand his situation. Not only that, there is a great mother-son relationship in the book, and a great female main character as well. The writing is a lot of fun to read, and has an interesting and humorous tone to the it. All in all, this book was great and I’d definitely recommend it!
Oh, look what you left behind! Your tasty meal awaits, come and pick it up!