*I received a copy of this novel from Sourcebooks and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review*
Ryden is an aspiring soccer star. He’s cute, he’s popular, and he’s employed. His life is perfect, right? Nope! That’s just what he wants Joni, a cute girl he met at work, to believe. She’s cool, energetic, totally into him, and best of all, she doesn’t know anything about his life. In reality, Ryden is a single dad of an infant daughter named Hope. And, in truth, it’s nobody’s fault but his own (or, so he thinks.) Meg, the love of Ryden’s life, was about to start her second round of chemotherapy when she got pregnant. No matter how much Ryden and her parents fought her, Meg was SURE she could survive the pregnancy, give birth to their baby, go through her next round of chemo and be fine. Unfortunately, she was wrong. So, Ryden is left trying to figure out this whole dad thing AND go to work AND go to school AND become the professional soccer player that everyone knows he’s destined to be. When Ryden discovers three journals Meg hid before she died, he hopes to figure out the answers to everything; why she chose the baby over her own life, how he’s supposed to live without her, and most importantly: how to be a dad.
There were so many things I just absolutely adored about this book! We’ve all seen the TV shows and read the books about teenage pregnancy/parenthood, and most of us have read at least one book where the main character has cancer or some other type of terminal affliction. When I was a teenager and pre-teen, one of my favorite authors was Lurlene McDaniel. What You Left Behind is very reminiscent of her work. But, what made this totally different is that Jessica Verdi took teen pregnancy, a topic we’ve been saturated with for the last few years, and put a completely different spin on it; not only with the focus on Meg’s cancer, but with the fact that the entire book was told from a MALE perspective. I absolutely loved this, but the novel wasn’t without its challenges.
Throughout most of the book, while I felt for his situation, I couldn’t help but hate him; and not just a little. He’s more or less a self-centered pompous ass. He takes advantage of his friends and his mom in an effort to maintain the status quo of his life, despite having an infant daughter. While his focus should be on her, he keeps it on his friends, school, and soccer. There were so many points throughout What You Left Behind that I just absolutely wanted to throttle him. A lot of reviewers saw this as being a detriment to the book, but actually, I found it just the opposite. It was raw, it was at times a disgusting display of humanity, and it was real. Unfortunately, the way Ryden acted is the way A LOT of 16 year old boys would act in the same situation. It’s not that he was being intentionally malicious, he really just didn’t understand that he was wrong. He had this idealized view of what his life was supposed to be, and became singularly focused on attaining that, despite the “obstacles” in his way.
I didn’t start out feeling much for her but pity. I can’t imagine every being in the situation of having to choose between your own life and that of your unborn baby. That being said, the more I read, the more I hated her. I know you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but since she’s fictional I don’t think that applies here. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will leave it at this: If Ryden was self centered, at least he noticed the existence of other people and the fact that they have feelings. I don’t know that Meg ever did.
I love her. She’s weird, goofy, gorgeous, and eats bizarre food. It’s a shame that she had to get mixed up with Ryden when he was at his most self-absorbed. But, overall, I think she handled it and him like a pro. And let’s be honest here…. My favorite thing about Joni is her room. Seriously, I would read this book if for no other reason than to put Joni’s room on my home renovation wish-list.
One Thing That Bugged Me:
This is such a little thing, that it didn’t even deter from What You Left Behind from getting five stars from me, but, the alcohol consumption in this novel was on a level that is nothing short of ridiculous. Maybe that’s how “popular kids” behave in high school; partying constantly and getting blitzed out of their minds, but it, and it’s lack of parental and legal repercussions just seemed more than a little excessive.
Like I said, What You Left Behind absolutely gets 5 stars from me. While “16 and Pregnant” failed in its attempts to deter teenagers from getting knocked up, and in many cases encouraged it, I feel like this novel put it in a light that is raw, real, and as accurate as it is heartbreaking. And, even for the adult YA fans out there, who maybe aren’t dealing with the suck-fest that is being a teenager, this is a great novel. It will make you laugh, scream, cry and often-times be alternately pissed off and elated at the reality of the human condition.