Book Review: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

wylb  What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 4, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 358 – hardcover, 370 – ebook & paperback

Format: ebook

Source: Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley

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Blurb:

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?


Review:

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my thoughts and opinions in this review.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, this was such a refreshing change from all the other YA teen pregnancy books I’ve read. Most of them are focused on single teen moms, so it was reinvigorating to finally read a book about the paternal side instead. On the other hand, I still had a lot of issues with main aspects of the book, which I’ll be going into below.

It kills me to have a less-than-great rating for this book, because all I’m seeing are positive full-star reviews. Everyone’s gushing about how wonderful Jessica and her previous books are, but this was my first and I sadly didn’t even enjoy it very much.

Before we delve in, however, here’s a quick run-down on the basic plot: (P.S. You won’t find any spoilers in this review.)

Ryden is a 17 year old who was on track to get into UCLA and become a professional football player.  That is, until he kills his girlfriend who has cancer by getting her pregnant. Meg had to stop taking her chemo and died after she gave birth, leaving Ryden with an infant baby to take care of. Now Ryden is struggling to balance taking care of his daughter, working, going to football practice, and going to school. All this stress heaps on him and leaves him understandably frustrated and angry. In addition to all that, Meg left Ryden some type of posthumous journal checklist and he is determined to find all of them, thinking it contains the secret to being a good father. How will poor Ryden deal with all of this?

This book was angst-filled and grief-ridden, but it was still enjoyable. Not in a fun way, exactly, more like in a Woah, did the book end? Where’d all the pages go?  way. This was a very well thought-out story and I’m glad that YA fiction today offers books like this.

What I liked most about the book was the characters. They were all unique, but not in an overwhelming way. Alan was so cool and funny, Ryden’s mom was very supportive, and Hope was the best baby ever. And let’s not forget my absolute favorite, Joni. She was such a dynamic character; the only drawback was that I hoped we got to know more about her. We knew superficial stuff that were only there to contribute to the story and keep the plot moving, but I wanted something deeper. Her family, perhaps, or her friends. We just touched on the basics.

I also wasn’t able to fully enjoy the dynamic between her and Ryden because of the secret. This just made everything even more superficial. Their relationship felt very unsatisfying to me. Too fast, shallow, and insincere. Maybe it was just the vibe I was getting from Ryden’s side. When they first kissed in the car, all I could think was: “Woah, slow down there, folks.” Halfway through the story I realized why the relationship didn’t sit right with me, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise. It was full of lust. Ryden liked Joni only because she made him forget about Meg. I know the main point of the story isn’t about the romance, or even about Joni for that matter, but it would’ve been really nice if everything was just a bit more fleshed out.

Overall, this was an okay book. It didn’t live up to the expectations I had in mind when I read the synopsis, but it still satisfied me a bit. I haven’t given up on Jessica Verdi, I think her other books have potential to be even better and I’d definitely love to read more in the future.

Rating: 3 fish

3 fish

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