Wednesday 21 October 2015

Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

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?

Review: I was really excited about this book, having loved Robin Talley's previous story. To be honest, she had a lot to live up to following the previous novel becaus that just wowed me so much! This story tackle similar issues but opened up another whole new world to me, how does this writer do that? This is another book that is not for the faint hearted and definitely not for a younger reader, but a book which I feel is As important as it is moving and demands to be read! 

I really liked meeting the characters of Gretchen and Toni and going on their journey with them. I have to admit that I got so sucked into this book, not only did I not put it down and read it cover to cover in one sitting, but it also felt the angst that they felt, I felt oppressed by societies labels in to he way that they did and I also felt as confused as they did by their (and my own place in that) I'm not sure reading it in one big chunk comes highly recommended but I really wanted to immerse myself in the story and felt I got to know these characters a lot more because of that. I have to say, I really didn't like some of the supporting characters in this book. I loved how supportive they were of their friends at times but I never really thought about the peer pressure that can exist not only to fit in and be 'normal' but also the peer pressure that one can face to not fit in and and yet to be something that is easily recognisable within society. 

There were moments in this book where I was a little confused by the terminology, just because I had heard all the words and phrases and yet didn't really know what they meant when it comes to gender identity and transitioning. I found that this meant the book took a little longer than any other 400 page novel. However I appreciate when a book teaches me new things and I learn from that and so I don't mind the extra time that it took me. I really love that this book is set when two people go off to college/university and it really made me want to start that journey all over again and discover the delights of reinventing yourself in a new city with new friends. There are also parts of the book where one of the characters doesn't use any pronouns which I think. Must have been a real skill to write and I really admire the author for this! 

Overall I really enjoyed this book and am really glad that I read it. The only thing stopping it from being a five star read for me, and therefore living up to the novel that Talley wrote before this one was all of the terminology. Sometimes it felt like there was a lot of pressure to out labels on things when the book was all about not conforming to labels and there were a lot of new labels to get my head around. I definitely recommend going into this book with an open mind, ready to have it expanded even farther and I commend this author on writing about a very real topic facing young people as they begin their adult lives today! 

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