Thursday, 6 August 2015

What You Left Behind

Author: Jessica Verdi
Genre: Young Adult, Modern Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
First Published: August 1, 2015
First Line: "If there's a more brain-piercing sound than a teething baby crying, I can't tell you what it is."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt’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?

My Review:  This book tackles a lot of serious topics that face today's teens.  It focuses on everything from teenage pregnancy and cancer, to birth control, abortion, grief and absentee parenting.  The way some of these issues were dealt with in the book worked for me and others didn't.

The book focuses on teenage dad, Ryden.  I liked that it was unique for the author to focus not on a teenage mom but on the dad.  I also appreciated that the author doesn't sugarcoat these hard, real-life issues for the reader.  Some scenes, especially as a mother myself, were uncomfortable to read. 

I don't have to love or agree with everything a character does and that was the case with Ryden.  Ryden has a lot on his plate from mourning the girl he loved, to taking care of their baby, focusing on his post-high school future and trying to deal with his conflicting feelings.  Part of me could understand why he'd behave/react the way he did but I also couldn't whole-heartedly get behind him either.  Ryden came off as rather annoying, self-centred and pretty delusional throughout a lot of the book. Did I mention self-centred?  

He runs around like a chicken with its head cut off for the majority of the book and when he does focus on something it's on his future as a UCLA soccer star and not learning how to be a dad to Hope. He barely acknowledges his daughter for the bulk of the book and when he does it was more to whine that she doesn't have a bond with him.  That was very frustrating and heart breaking to read.  I suppose when you think of all that he's had to deal with it kind of makes sense but my overall feeling with this book was frustration and annoyance.  I get that he's suffering and trying to come to terms with his new life as a young dad but more often than not he came off as selfish and after awhile that got old. 

I think that my frustration stems from the fact that as a parent myself I cringed at how easily he put his future ahead of his daughter's safety and repeatedly tried to pawn her off on others.  By the time he started to make better decisions it was a little too late for me to get on the Ryden bandwagon.  Yes, he had an epiphany and personal growth but it took so long to see any glimmer of growth in him that he came off as a one-dimensional character.

There is a wee bit of romance in the book.  I like that the author tried to give Ryden a life line in Joni and I get the whole 'opposites attract' thing but it still felt a little cheesy. What bothered me the most was that it took Ryden so long to let Joni know about his big secret. Just because she makes one brief comment he decides to hide this huge secret from her?  You can predict the result of the omission from the get-go. It just didn't ring real for me and it felt like the author was trying to create some extra issues when she really didn't need to.  

Overall, I was disappointed with this book and I struggled to finish it.  It was filled with selfish decisions and both Meg and Ryden were annoying.  At first my frustration focused on Ryden but by the end of the book Meg edges out Ryden for most infuriating character. I also would have appreciated an epilogue to wrap things up so the reader could see how the decisions that were made affected the characters.  

Even though this wasn't a hit with me I think people who want a book that focuses on real teenage issues that will also invoke an emotional response may enjoy this book. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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