Title: What You Left Behind
Author: Jessica Verdi
Release Date: August 4th, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
If you're a big reader of YA books then you've probably noticed that there are a lot of books about cancer doing the rounds. There have been plenty of books about teenage pregnancy too. This book covers both of these topics but guess what? It is different. Jessica Verdi takes two overused topics and puts a fresh spin on them and creates an emotional, heart-wrenching story of death, fatherhood and learning to cope with the drastic curveballs life can throw you.
When Meg finds out she is pregnant she decides to stop her chemo treatments in order to keep the baby. Her parents disagree as does Ryden who thinks she should have an abortion so she can carry on with her treatment. But Meg has made up her mind and ultimately dies giving birth to their baby girl: Hope. Ryden is suddenly a single father trying to figure out how to bring up a baby whilst juggling school, soccer practice and a part time job. He takes comfort in one of Meg's journals and is convinced that she has left others for him to find to help him with his new life. Feeling alone and missing his old life, he befriends a girl Joni who makes him laugh and forget about his worries for a while. The only problem is that she doesn't know about Hope.
There are two main things that I loved about this book:
1) Teenage pregnancy and parenthood is explored from the perspective of a seventeen year old male who is a single father to a newborn baby. How often does that happen? Never. It is so refreshing to see the struggles of being a young parent from a male's point of view. Fathers are often forgotten about because they aren't the ones giving birth but being a parent so young affects them too.
2) The wonderful mother-son relationship. Ryden's mother was so supportive and present which was amazing to see. She didn't spend her time shouting at Ryden for having got a girl pregnant but instead she supports him and tries her best to make him see how good a father he can be.
I really liked Ryden as a narrator. He's angry, confused and frustrated and thinks that he's a terrible father. He isn't perfect either. I found myself being frustrated with him at times for not realising that he had to make sacrifices for his child. But really, it's understandable. One minute he's on route to a soccer scholarship in a top college and the next he's a single father at seventeen. Meg's parents want nothing to do with the baby which creates childcare and money issues. What seventeen year old wants to be thinking about the cost of day care when he can be at soccer training to earn his scholarship? I really, really felt for him. I loved seeing him grow and bond with Hope and take charge of his responsibilities.
His relationship with Joni was sweet but I didn't love it. I'm all for Ryden moving on in his life and being happy, which is completely what he deserves, but I would have preferred more time devoted to him being with Hope. I really liked it when he realises that he is already being a father and that he and Hope are going to be okay but I just would have loved more interaction between them.
What You Left Behind is an emotional and realistic portrayal of the topic which doesn't sugarcoat and I praise Jessica Verdi for tackling it from a fresh perspective.