Title: What We Left Behind
Author: Robin Talley
Genre: YA Contemporary LGBT Fiction
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
I was sent an ARC of this title by Harlequin Teen. Thank you!
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?
Have you ever read a book and just *known* that you’re reading something that’s important in a big way? That’s the feeling that I got while reading What We Left Behind by Robin Talley. What We Left Behind follows Toni and Gretchen, the seemingly perfect couple, as they go off to separate colleges. For the very first time since they got together, they are separated and forced to really develop their own individual identities, rather than their identity as a couple. What We Left Behind is a beautiful look at self growth and development, and how to grow and change in love. What We Left Behind is told in dual perspectives, allowing the reader to really understand the struggles that Toni and Gretchen each face in this tumultuous part of their lives. I found myself really identifying with some of the things Toni and Gretchen were going through when they were first adjusting to college life, because I’ve been through that period of life and understand just how crazy and confusing change can be. Robin Talley did an amazing job at making these characters very easy to relate to. I was easily able to find myself in both Toni and Gretchen, which made my reading experience that much more enjoyable.
This is a LGBT+ novel, but the lessons contained within can really apply to anyone. At the beginning of the book, Toni, one of the main characters, identifies as genderqueer. They don’t really feel like they’re a male or a female, and they don’t like the use of gendered pronouns as a label. While in high school, Toni was alone in this aspect. Being genderqueer wasn’t something that they shared with many other people, so when Toni gets to college, they are shocked to find an LGBT group that includes other people who openly identify as genderqueer. Toni finally feels the acceptance that they’ve been searching for and Toni’s identity and sense of self is evolving, but where does that leave their relationship with Gretchen? I’ve seen a few people who felt like because Toni’s identity does change throughout the book, that they are portrayed as simply confused. I honestly didn’t feel this way, as I think it’s perfectly normal for someone’s sense of self to change, especially in one’s college years.
While Toni is finding acceptance, Gretchen is struggling to remember how to operate without Toni there. This was one of the aspects that I could really relate to. When you’ve been part of a couple for so long, you find yourself a bit uncomfortable when that person isn’t around. You almost have to relearn how to be a normal, social human being. Gretchen was such a wonderful character to read about, and was extremely well written. She was very patient and understanding with Toni, even when things got really rough between them.
What We Left Behind by Robin Talley was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I was able to find myself in a story that I didn’t expect to find a mirror in. This book is a wonderfully written story about finding oneself and growing and changing with those you love. I give it 5 out of 5 stars, without a doubt.