Title: What You Left Behind
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Price: $9.99 U.S. (paperback)
Publish Date: August 1, 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult
Meg Reynolds has been in love with Ryden Brooks for years. When he finally notices her in AP English, she is elated. She doesn't want to ruin it by telling him about her cancer. They fall in love, and then she gets pregnant. She decides to forego cancer treatment to carry the child, which inevitably leads to her demise. Now Ryden is a 17 year-old single father, heartbroken over the loss of his beloved girlfriend, whom he believes he killed by getting her pregnant. In What You Left Behind, Ryden is learning how to balance his new life as a father with work, school, soccer, and friendships, while attempting to cope with the loss of his love Meg. After finding one of Meg's notebooks with a checklist in the cover, he believes there are more, filled with her words of wisdom about how to be a good father. What he finds isn't what he expects, but what he needs to help him move on.
This book was so hard to put down! Between the cancer and the love story, it was very The Fault in Our Stars-esque. The writing wasn't quite as brilliant as John Green, but it was very good. I liked this book for multiple reasons. First, the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy dealing with the aftermath of teen pregnancy. I'm not the leading authority on teen pregnancy literature, but I would venture a guess that this is rare. Second, I loved Ryden's mother. She was the appropriate amount of supportive, setting parameters for her son regarding her duties as a grandmother, and insisting he make the decisions as a father. I liked how Ryden's feelings were valid and real. Verdi was able to really convey the heartbreak and hopelessness that he was feeling at some of his lowest points.
I did not enjoy the biggest plot twist that Verdi wrote, regarding one of the journals. I'm still trying to figure out why she did it, and the only thing I can come up with is so as not to martyr Meg. Throughout the book you are believing that Meg made the ultimate sacrifice, choosing her daughter's life over her own, when in reality that was not necessarily the case. It was, for lack of a better word, a strange twist.
Verdi tidily wraps up the story, though I can't help but wonder what happens to Ryden as time goes on. Will he go to college and make a life for himself and Hope? I think so.
Reader Rach gives What You Left Behind four stars.