Tuesday, October 20, 2015

ARC Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

What We Left Behind From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

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?

My Review:

I am writing this review in June upon having just finished this book, and it will be October when this review goes live.  I am writing this review right now because I finished the book and wrote a mini review of it, and as soon as I wrote that mini review, I needed to write this review because I had thoughts to expand upon.  I could just say, Everyone should read this book, and leave it at that, but I have much more to say, because this book is extremely unique, and all the things that make it unique also make it wonderful.  As soon as I received my ARC, I started this book, and I didn't read any more of some other books that I had started until I finished this.  I became so invested in these characters and in their lives.  I am probably going to preorder this book, and if I don't preorder it, I will buy it when it releases, because I want to read it again when it is a hardcover with that gorgeous cover that will look beautiful in my book collection.  Anyway, now onto the reasons that this book is perfection.

This book is full of diversity all around.  Obviously, the main diversity that you know is in this book just by reading the synopsis is the sexual orientation and gender nonbinary diversity.  There is also racial diversity in this, with African American and Korean characters in important roles.  The narrators of this book are Gretchen, who is lesbian, and Toni, who is genderqueer.  While I have read a couple books with characters who identified as trans, I have never read a book with a character who identified as genderqueer.  That is, until I read this book.  Honestly, there are some gender identities mentioned in this book that I had never even heard of before.  Most of the characters in this book fall somewhere on the LGBTQIA spectrum, except for a few minor characters.  There are gay secondary characters, a lesbian protagonist, a genderqueer protagonist, lesbian secondary characters, a bi secondary character, and transgender secondary characters.  This book does have a lot of focus on transgender characters, which is one of the most underrepresented categories in LGBTQIA.  This book focused a lot on pronouns and the gender binary, and many of the nuances there, which were interesting to read about, since it wasn't something I've thought about very much.

Another way that this book is unique is that it shows a relationship that is already established at the beginning of the book.  So many books are about the buildup to getting the main couple together, so it was refreshing to read something different, though I do like those other books as well.  Books and movies often stop once the couple is together, but this book shows how there is so much to be explored and written about the difficulties of an established relationship.  Once someone is with someone else, it doesn't automatically mean that the couple will have smooth sailing from there on out.  Instead, there can be bumps in the road, and the people in the relationship will need to learn how they can grow both in the relationship as well as individually, which is the main struggle within this book.  Once they go to college, Toni and Gretchen have a distance between them, since they aren't seeing each other nearly as often.  This is especially difficult for Gretchen because she isn't sure how she fits in outside of her relationship with Toni.

The third thing that is especially unique about this book is that it is a YA book set during college.  Most YA books are set during high school, but I think a lot of high school age students, especially juniors and seniors, would be interested in reading books about students who are just starting their freshmen years of college.  At the time when I read this book, I had just finished my freshmen year of college, so I especially enjoyed reading a book that was set in college, though the college experiences that these characters had were different than my own personal college experiences.  It shows how people can find themselves at college, and really feel a strong sense of belonging, while others may struggle to find that sense of belonging.  I thought it was a great depiction of a first year of college.

If you like YA contemporary that is like no other, read this book.


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