(Review) What You Left Behind
What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Genre: Young Adult
My Goodreads Rating: Four Stars
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?
I've never read a Jessica Verdi book before, but I feel like this was a good one to start with. Ryden is a seventeen-year-old single father who is struggling to make his kid like him and, basically, to make his life work. What I loved most about this book is that it actually feels like a seventeen-year-old boy might be saying some of these things. The language is simple, but that isn't really a bad thing. I think if he were to start waxing poetic about fatherhood or thinking about something other than himself the story wouldn't feel genuine.
On top of being a new father he's also dealing with (and blaming himself for) the death of his girlfriend Meg. Meg is really just a memory in this story; she only makes appearances when Ryden reads her journal entries to feel close to her and to eventually figure out why she chose to have Hope instead of continuing with her chemotherapy.
Ryden carries so much guilt around that it makes you sad for him, but then he does things like lie to Joni about his entire life. That's where story felt real to me: Ryden is torn between trying to love his daughter and having a "normal" life.
The other characters in the story are great. They hold Ryden to high expectations and don't put up with any of his crap. From Meg's sister to his soccer coach to his own mother- they all play a part in Ryden's growth.
After reading her journal entries I really found myself not caring for Meg (yeah, I didn't like the dead girl). Especially after she laid out the plan of her legacy and Ryden began to feel the burden of it. I felt for him and was afraid it would change his relationship with Hope, but was pleasantly surprised when it didn't.
I love the moment when he realizes that "he's already Daddy". Unfortunately that's when the drama takes a turn for the worst. What happens after he discovers Meg's plan is sad, but understandable. He's angry, hurt, and doesn't see any way to make it go away. Ryden does stupid things and hurts a lot of people, but in the end he apologizes and tries to do the right thing.
The storyline of Ryden's father didn't play a huge part in the story, however, I was happy with the choice he made at the end. His mom had been a mother and a father to him all of his life and he learned plenty from her.
This was a great, easy read. It was emotional, but not overly...just enough to keep me wanting more. I'll definitely be checking out more of Verdi's works.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.*