What We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published November 1, 2015 by Harlequin AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
From the blurb: 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?
What We Left Behind by Robin Talley is the story of two high school students as they transition to college, while trying to maintain their long-term relationship and deal with their identities in regards to sexuality and gender. Toni came out as gay as a young teen and this is accepted well by her peers at school. She meets new student Gretchen at the Homecoming dance and the two become inseparable, they never fight, they spend all their time together, and they have plans to go to college in Boston. When Gretchen neglects to tell Toni that she applied to NYU and will be moving to New York instead, a rift develops between them, which is worsened by their separation.
We definitely need more books like What We Left Behind. It's great to see main characters who are gay and living lives in which they don't have to worry about being bullied or seen as different. It's also great to see the conversation taken further in regards to labels and more than just being gay or lesbian, but also being genderqueer and transgender. I thought it was covered well but I have read a few reviews that feel that the term genderqueer was used incorrectly. Part of me wonders if it was done intentionally, because I can imagine that as a teen looking for the right word to describe themselves, they might choose a word but not quite understand it fully, or perhaps choose a word that isn't the perfect fit, but they don't yet know of another word that they would identify with more strongly. But, the reviewers could be right, and it was used here by the author, without true knowledge of the meaning, and I completely understand why that would offend and annoy readers.
Toni was a difficult character, but her need to understand everyone and everything is relatable, and her judgemental personality was believable. She struggled so much with her identity, but didn't want to be patient with people she loved, like Gretchen. I thought Gretchen was wonderful, and I can imagine a lot of readers identifying with her because I'm sure a lot of people struggle with knowing what to say and not wanting to offend. I thought her growth during the story was good, but I did struggle to understand her friendship with Carroll; from the moment they met he was disrespectful in regards to her relationship with Toni and it seemed as though she spent all her time with him defending her girlfriend.
It's great to see books like What We Left Behind being published and garnering well-deserved attention because this is an extremely important topic and a wonderful chance to get teens and adults to learn more and start conversations.
Thank you to Harlequin AU for my review copy.
I love this version of the cover, it's so bright and colourful.
I started with a base of China Glaze White Out.