What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi, Sourcebooks Fire, 2015. ISBN: 9781492614401. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS
The teen years aren’t easy to navigate and honesty is often an elusive part of them. Ryden loved Meg beyond belief and thought they’d have something special, just like he believed he’d get a soccer scholarship to UCLA. Then several things happened. Meg got pregnant and refused to have an abortion, or even more importantly, have her next round of chemotherapy which might have saved her life. She died on the operating table while their baby girl, Hope, was being delivered via a C-section.
Now Ryden’s life is completely different. He’s a single dad, in deep grief over Meg’s death and struggling to hold everything together. He’s not about to let go of his soccer dream, even though money, time, a job and the demands of a baby are overwhelming.
He’s obsessed with learning who his own father is because he thinks that finding that out will somehow make him a better dad. Still, he has an amazing mother who supports him and helps care for Hope without trying to smother or control him.
When Meg’s sister Mabel, finds one of her sister’s journals with a list of three names in the back (hers, her sister’s best friend Alan, Ryden’s) with a checkmark in front of her name, she reads it and realizes that Meg must have left it for her to find and give to Ryan. When she does and he reads it, his perception of Meg and their relationship starts to change in unsettling and painful ways.
Complicating his life is an attraction to Joni who works with him at Whole Foods. She’s fun and things click between them. However, Ryden can’t get it together to tell her about Hope.
What happens as Ryden tries to find the missing journals, almost loses Joni and does lose some other important things, make for a story that’s impossible to put down. He has to grow up and it’s both painful and joyful to watch as it happens. I’ve read Jessica’s other books and like this, they’re compelling and amazing reads. While there is some strong language here, it’s appropriate and the quality of the story and its subject matter trump any concerns about profanity. I’d strongly encourage any school or public library to add this book to their collection