The cover might have something to do with why I thought this book would be a feel good romance. It screams young adult romance, but it really doesn’t fit the seriousness of the book. Yes, there is a nice romance plot that I really enjoyed, but I felt “What You Left Behind” had more to do with moving on from the grief of past mistakes and living in the present to create a happier future. It was more “The Fault in Our Stars” with a much happier ending than it was a mushy teen romance. So while I urge everyone to give this book a shot, I want to make it clear that “What You Left Behind” should not be read without a full box of tissues on standby.
Ryden is a hot mess . . . at first.
Ryden is a seventeen-years-old soccer star. He’s a senior in high school and already being scouted for a full-ride athletic scholarship to UCLA. Oh, and he’s the single father of one six-month-old daughter named hope. He’s also majorly in denial about his situation, won’t stop to listen to any advice given to him to the people around him who loves him, but he also lost the love of his life on the day he was made a single father so he definitely has a reason to be so messed up.
My advice to all who plan to read “What You Left Behind”: be patient with Ryden. He’s a very frustrating narrator to stick with because he is physically unable to see Meg’s death for what it is, a horrible tragedy that wasn’t his fault. Life is hard and sometimes crappy things happen to the people we love the most, but it’s not his fault that she chose the road she did. But I can see why it would be hard to come to grips with as a young kid left to raise his baby alone. He definitely didn’t have the easiest of lives.
So while there were so many times when I wanted to slap the boy silly and shake him until he saw the error of his ways, I felt for him. Plus, I think it would be unrealistic if he wasn’t a mess. And he showed a tremendous amount of growth throughout the book!If there was ever a writer that should be applauded for successfully transforming a character. I mean, he had the holy grail of come-to-Jesus moments and it was awesome to see because he really, really needed it. Really.
I want to kidnap Joni and keep her for myself.
Seriously though, she was my all time favorite character in the book (and Ryden’s mother was a close second). How to explain Joni’s character? She’s a vegetarian but she lives for junk food. She has absolutely no idea what she wants to do in life, but she knows she wants to experience it. And she’s also this wonderfully wacky seventeen-year-old girl who turned out to be a unique mixture of childlike joy and startling observations. She is also a huge part of Ryden’s much-needed, come-to-Jesus character growths and I love her for it. She makes friends with everyone and is treated pretty shabbily by Ryden for most of the novel.
If there was one thing I didn’t like about “What You Left Behind” is that Joni didn’t have as big of a role in the book as I wanted her to, because she winds up helping the characters of the book closure in a big way. I really enjoyed the secondary characters as well, and wouldn’t mind reading a spin off involving Alan. *hint hint*
A thoroughly enjoyable novel
Even though I am so not a fan of reading tearjerkers at night, I loved this book. I loved that the author chose to only narrate “What You Left Behind” in Ryden’s voice and didn’t switch it up like most young adult fiction. I liked that the book has a happily for now ending and I loved Ryden and Joni as a couple. This book was gripping and emotionally intense. . . I can’t wait to read more of her writing!