ARC Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Written by: Robin Talley
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Pages: 416, hardcover
Series: Standalone
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Thank you to Harlequin Teen for sending me an ARC!

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From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn’t enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

LetsTalkWhat We Left Behind is different from other YA books in three major ways. First, it takes place in college–pretty self explanatory, and an interesting change of pace for me, since I am also a college student. Second, it focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters who have already been together for quite some time, who obviously love each other a lot but are going through a difficult period. Again, a pretty different dynamic from a whole lot of contemporary YA, which focuses on the process of getting together. But of course, there’s more to it than that; people change, situations change, relationships change. The book dealing with this gave it a more mature edge that I liked a lot. Third, one of the two protagonists, Toni, has an arc focusing on exploration of gender identity, which, for obvious reasons, is something we need more of in the book world.

To be honest, I don’t know if it handled the issues it wanted to handle as well as it could have; I plan to talk about some of the problems I had later on. The book also didn’t always keep my interest, and I sometimes had trouble keeping track of the secondary characters. Compared to Lies We Tell Ourselves, I actually found this book pretty disappointing. However, I loved the relationship between the two main characters, the way both of them grew throughout the story, and the portrayal of long-distance relationships. More than anything, I hope the ideas discussed in this book will act as a stepping stone for more representation of different gender identities in YA.

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