Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lightning Crashes - Stephanie's review of WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jessica Verdi

Title: What You Left Behind
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: August 4, 2015

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?

Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, and her dog. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @jessverdi.

Ryden Brooks is a popular, good-looking high school super star on the path to earning a full scholarship to UCLA and a professional soccer career. The only thing stopping him is his seven month old daughter and the fact that her mother Meg is dead, because Ryden killed her.

Meg had cancer. But Ryden feels responsible for her untimely death because when she became unexpectedly pregnant at seventeen, she couldn't continue with chemo treatments and she subsequently died giving birth.

Ryden is a complete mess. He is broke, confused, desperate and utterly clueless as to how to be a good father. Thank goodness he has the best mother in the world, who not only takes care of his daughter, Hope, but tries to steer him on the right path to being a good father while balancing high school, a part time job, athletic aspirations and a social life. Meg's sister Mabel, sneaks visits, and Meg's best friend, Alan, babysits in a pinch, but all of Ryden’s friends are busy being teenagers. Aside from Mabel, Meg's family wants nothing to do with Ryden or Hope, so he's on his own to figure it all out. And failing.

Through a clue in the journals Meg deliberately left behind, Ryden learns the truth about Meg's intentions, which weren't as pure as Ryden once thought.
Then there's Joni, the girl Ryden meets at Whole Foods where they both work. He just wants his life with Meg and Hope to be separate from his life with Joni, so he omits the fact that he has a kid and a dead girlfriend. It’s not his first mistake or his last. But once he realizes Joni brings back the life and magic to his world, their relationship moves forward in a very sweet way. (I need to add that Joni is a fabulously written character, and every time there was a scene with her and Ryden, I was sad when it ended. She was just so much fun- a metaphorical and literal bright spot in the book, for the reader and for Ryden.)

Ryden is not only selfish, but he's frustrated and resentful of Hope, as well as Meg for getting pregnant to leave behind a legacy without any thought as to what single fatherhood would do to Ryden. But as irritated as I got with Ryden for the parenting fails, I understood them and forgave him at the same time.

I found the Storyline to be remarkably realistic, and rather heartbreaking.  There are moments of tears and genuine sadness for Ryden (and Hope,) for the life and the love he lost. I loved Joni and the spark she brought to the pages.
That being said, my one complaint is that I would have liked to seen a few intimate reactions between Ryden and his daughter, Hope. It was very mechanical and forced, and although the author was trying to portray him as not having a clue, I felt the natural instinctive warmth and emotional bond a father has with a child was definitely missing even toward the end when the baby began to frustrate him less.
However, the ending made up for that. I loved the little twist, and the sweetness that brought the make the story come full circle.

Ryden's story is emotionally heart wrenching, realistic, and well done.

4.5 stars

Live - Lightning Crashes

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