BOOK REVIEW – What You Left Behind by Jessica VerdiWhat You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
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Synopsis:

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?

“Why don’t I ever seem to know what the right thing is? I hate you, brain.”

Warning: It’s been really, really difficult for me to gather my thoughts about this book and I put a lot of me in this review, because I needed this personal insight to express what worked and didn’t work for me in Ryden’s story. Please feel free to disagree with my opinions.

What You Left Behind was such a realistic, infuriating and heartbreaking young-adult story – I loved what I think the author was trying to say but I didn’t enjoy the story.

First of all, I loved that the issues weren’t sugared, even if I can see how people will maybe feel uncomfortable with it : it deals with abortion, raising a child alone, loss and family bounds. I loved how realistic and daring it was : daring because sometimes I get the impression that authors don’t dare to talk about this kind of subjects because they are, by essence, dividing people, especially in America (forgive me for this possible simplification : it’s only how I perceive your public debate, because we just don’t have this kind of debate in France – not on that level anyway).

Jessica Verdi has the guts to offer us a different kind of story, and for that, I’m grateful. Sometimes life is more complicated than right or wrong. It’s my personal opinion, so take it or leave it, but I will never think that there is a right or a wrong answer when it comes to abortion. To me it’s a matter of personal choice, and I will never deny the right to abort. And if there isn’t any abortion here (obviously, because Ryden is a single father), yes, they thought about it. Yes, I understand why. Yes, for me this book is asking the right questions. Ryden is such a believable and realistic character : oh, no, he doesn’t grow up right away, and the choices he makes are sometimes messed-up. Now, do you really think that people are always able to change in a heartbeat, at seventeen? I don’t. So, yeah, even though he annoyed the crap out of me sometimes (more on this later), even though I wanted to shake him, I understood and cared for him at the beginning – until I didn’t anymore.

What you need to know is that Meg’s pregnancy killed her, and that she knew it was meant to happen. So, yeah, Ryden is mad and resentful – he still is, even though his daughter is here. So if you feel it could be a too big issue for you, don’t read it, because Ryden is realistic and don’t act like he’s been touched by grace because he became a father. He’s immature, SELFISH, heartbroken, somewhat delusional, and does mistake after mistake.

► I certainly didn’t agree with all the choices Ryden made, especially when it comes to his little daughter.

OMG you can’t possibly imagine the number of times I wanted to YELL at him TO GO TAKE CARE OF HIS DAUGHTER DAMMIT!!

He infuriated me. He maddened me. You want to know the truth? Call me a cold-hearted bitch, but in the end, I kind of hated him.

But the fact is, I didn’t need to agree with him, because it’s not my story : It’s Ryden’s, and I accepted it as such. Here’s a real coming of age story, where the main character evolves. Here’s a character I can say, without doubt, that his flaws are fucking REALISTIC.

Sadly, I didn’t care about the romance.

Let’s get this straight : if some readers found weird and even shocking that Ryden was able to fall in love with another girl seven months after his loss, I didn’t, and that’s not WHY I didn’t like the romance.

I didn’t find it shocking because I lived it. And like I’ve said to these judgmental people nearly seven years ago : don’t try to understand how an heart can react, because you can’t. Trust life.

This book is about closure, the one we don’t always seek but that we need to move on, and when Ryden read Meg’s journal it’s what it felt like to me : searching closure, getting ripped of the stupid guilt we feel when we’re the “survivor”. I always wondered if people realized how much they keep the guilt alive when they act as if it was abnormal, coldhearted to start a new relationship after a loss. Trust me, we’re already well aware of the hidden rules that say that you can’t be in an healthy relationship less than a year after a loss. Oh, of course, people don’t openly say that you can’t be in a relationship. Nah. People say that it’s for the best, that they’re worried about you and your possible confusion (that people think that we can just mistake a love for another is beyond me).

But the truth is, they don’t know shit. That’s why I absolutely ADORED that Francesca Verdi dared to deal with such a secretly sensitive subject as love after loss, and yes, I wanted to ship Ryden and Joni hard. On this, I’m on the life team. Always and forever.

However, as much as I wanted to care about their relationship, sadly, the romance didn’t work for me, mostly for 2 reasons :

1) We don’t quite get enough Joni time to care about her as a character and in my opinion their love-story is only sketched here and stays on a superficial level.
2) The lying : It took way too much time to Ryden to tell the truth, and I didn’t like the fact that their whole relationship was built around a LIE. And what lie! She doesn’t even know that he has a daughter during most of the book! Of course it induced unnecessary drama, and I have a thing : I loathe unnecessary drama, especially when it’s created by miscommunications. It drives me crazy.

But what leads me to give this rating is the fact that I didn’t enjoy my read. Trust me, I can handle infuriating and even evil characters (Jorg! I love you!) and the darkest parts of the human mind don’t scare me (in books. They don’t scare me in books) but I need to find a balance to enjoy a book, whether it’s humor or endearment and I never managed to do this here. Oh, yes, I felt many emotions, I have to give it that : Anger, despair, sadness, annoyance, oh and did I say anger? Yeah? The only moments I felt something else where the passages with Ryden’s mother (who rocks) and when Ryden was taking care of his daughter (so rare).

I have to take into account that it took me ages to finish it, since I couldn’t stop putting it on hold. I almost always read books in a day or two, so, yeah, not my usual reaction here. The truth is, I always got a feeling of uneasiness when I tried to resume it and it disturbed me. No, scratch that : I WAS SO FUCKING MAD IT HURT. Because REALLY? The day-care scene? It destroyed me. I tried and tried and tried and tried to find the empathy in me to understand Ryden’s reactions and on some level I could, but putain de bordel de merde. There’s a moment guy you have to GROW THE FUCK UP. It’s hard, it hurts like hell, but you have to. I couldn’t stop picturing all these kiddos in the room crying and how he relied on everyone to take HIS responsibilities and – I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to stop. Again. Until I took the time to finish it and then, frankly? I hated the last 30%. I hated everything that went downhill, and at this point I was so much pissed that I hated the resolutions too. It was too late for me.

Of course what made me lost it is a spoiler (because I’m lucky like that) so I can’t talk about it here – the only thing I can say, and it’s my honest and strong opinion, is this : YES, sometimes to have a child is SELFISH. I don’t live in a fairytale. I see children who are neglected every day. They suffer from it.

View Spoiler »

So, RATING?

A 3 stars rating would have meant that I liked it. I didn’t, not really, and in the end I felt depressed and angry. But then, I’m still able to acknowledge the risks Jessica Verdi took, and Ryden’s voice was really realistic, so, yeah, 2.5 it is, for now.

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