What We Left Behind – Robin Talley

what we left behind uk cover

Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT

Publication Date: 22nd October 2015

Format: eARC from Harlequin UK via Netgalley (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?

(From goodreads.com)

I have mixed feelings about this book, there were parts I loved, parts I hated and parts I simply found a bit boring. I really can’t make my mind up. I didn’t dislike it though, that’s for certain.

The main thing that struck me with this book was that the characters are so stereotypical. Very little about them made them different, which made it boring to read at times as I just wanted there to be something different about the characters. Some things had obviously been included to try to do this – such as the differing backgrounds and races of Toni’s friends, but that was about it. I didn’t feel that there was a huge amount of character development either, they didn’t really change much throughout the book, not nearly as much as I expected given the premise of this book (I mean “shifting gender identity” literally shouts development!).

I also found the constant referring to pronouns irritating. Like I understood they were necessary at times, but not all of the time. The whole LGBT theme was overpowering in the book as well. Every society has a mix of people, both homosexual and heterosexual and yet pretty much every character that Toni and Gretchen meet is gay, or trans or whatever. I love reading about these characters, but I just found it unrealistic how pretty much everyone in the entire book was like this except their parents and roommates.

I did enjoy the way that the narrative voice alternated between Toni and Gretchen throughout, as it allowed me to see both sides of the story and how the events were affecting both characters, not just one of them. It also allowed the story to develop a lot more because had it just focused on one of the characters then I don’t feel that a huge amount would have happened. Because there were these two perspectives however, things moved well and it remained interesting.

I found that the majority of side characters were likeable, which is always a good thing for me as I don’t like disliking characters (usually because they end up annoying me after a while, even if they’re not actually annoying). So to have a collection of genuinely pleasant characters (of course with a few exceptions) made the book a lot more enjoyable for me. However the main two characters Toni and Gretchen, well, they’re not so likeable. I didn’t hate them or anything, they just got on my nerves with their whining and so on and they could have been a lot nicer to the other characters they meet.

However I will say that I learned a lot of things that I had no idea of before I read this book. For example, I wasn’t sure what genderqueer actually meant, and I also learned a lot of what it feels like to be dealing with these issues. We need more writers to deal with issues like these and so I applaud Robin Talley for doing just that. I imagine a lot of teens / young adults (well anyone really) dealing with these issues, or wanting to help someone with these issues, and finding comfort in a book like this as it gives an insight into how someone else feels and what should be said and done (or in some cases, not said and done) to help yourself or another.

This is one of those books which was okay, I enjoyed it, but I probably won’t pick up again. I am glad I read it and I would recommend it, but as I personally find stereotypical characters annoying it wasn’t one of my favourites (it’s one of those tropes I particularly dislike). I’d also had really high hopes for this book, and so when I read it and it had stereotypes and all that I’ve mentioned I felt disappointed, but I definitely think that maybe if I hadn’t had such high expectations for this then I’d have enjoyed it more.

I rated this 4 / 5 stars on goodreads, but I feel that there are other books I’ve rated four stars and I liked so much more, yet I preferred this to those that I’ve rated 3.5 and 3 stars so it’s somewhere in between I think…

Rating: 3.75 / 5 stars. (I won’t make a habit of the .25 / .75 ratings, they’ll only confuse me more!)


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