Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Review: What We Left Behind

Title What We Left Behind
Author Robin Talley
Release Date October 27, 2015

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, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid.

The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen won’t understand Toni’s new world, 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?

I've wanted to read this book for a while now. It was one of my Waiting on Wednesday picks in May of last year. It was in my top ten books I wanted to get to (but didn't a chance to read) a couple of weeks ago.

First, I want to say that I really loved Lies We Tell Ourselves. There was an interesting story with diverse characters and the writing was fantastic. It set the bar for Robin Talley's next book very high for me. Then, I saw the blurb for What We Left Behind and I was so excited! It called to me. I wanted this wonderful sounding book with a genderqueer character.

Secondly, is this book a solid representation of what it means to be genderqueer? As a side note, I am cisgender. I have no personal knowledge of what it means to be transgender (or even genderqueer). I am very open to learn about being transgender/genderqueer. I've watched videos on YouTube. I've read things. However, I am not claiming to understand these struggles. I don't. That being said, I've read numerous reviews on Goodreads that state What We Left Behind isn't a good representation of what it means to be genderqueer. Again, I can't speak personally, but I believe I can form an educated opinion. And it feels to me like this isn't a solid representation of being genderqueer. It feels like being genderqueer is treated as a transitional period from cisgender to transgender in this book rather than a legitimate identity.

I feel like the story was weaker in What We Left Behind than it was in Lies We Tell Ourselves. I was perfectly fine with the story focusing on Toni and figuring out their identity while the relationship took more of a backseat, but it just... ugh! I wasn't sure if I was reading a novel or a text book half of the time.

To top it all off, I didn't really like any of the characters. They all kind of sucked. And can someone tell me why, after some of the outrageous things he said, Gretchen was friends with Carroll?


2 out 5 stars

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