What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind

How did I get it?:
NetGalley- thanks to Harlequin (UK) Limited

Previously reviewed by the same author:
Lies We Tell Ourselves


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?


I absolutely devoured Robin Talley’s debut novel, the amazing Lies We Tell Ourselves. I really wanted to love this book. One, it’s written by the wonderful Robin Talley and two, it’s very much about gender identity and finding yourself which I think should be represented in Young Adult literature. However, I feel like this book came across as a bit too textbook. It didn’t feel overly well developed as a story, the characters were a little bit too judge-y towards heterosexuals and the emphasis on the use of pronouns started to get on my nerves.

Now I will outright admit that I don’t know a lot about those that identify as genderqueer so I can’t speak too much about the topic, or compare it to other books which may be similar, but I don’t believe this book is an overly accurate representation of the identity. I think the problem mainly lies with Toni. Toni is a frustrating character. There is so much information packed into the story and it doesn’t feel natural. It feels like reading non-fiction (which I have no problem with, I just wanted more of a story- not an info-dump!)

I did really enjoy reading from Gretchen’s perspective, who I thought was an adorable character. I don’t think Toni deserved her! That may be harsh of me, I know Toni was struggling with so many issues, but Gretchen was trying to be there for her as much as she could when she was feeling almost as confused about Toni’s identity then Toni was!

I do appreciate that questions about identity, pronouns, predjudice and language are important to be represented in literature. I’m all for that and I think it’s SO important. However, I don’t think the delivery was as solid as it could have been. I did enjoy reading the conversations, but it got so repetitive, especially the talk of pronouns.

I liked the premise of the this book and I really appreciate what Robin is doing with What We Left Behind. This book is certainly going to get people talking and that is what we want. I think it’s important to discuss identity and finding yourself, I just wish it had come across better.

Would I recommend it?:

Enjoyable enough, but not the outstanding read I wanted it to be. It will generate conversation though!

8 thoughts on “What We Left Behind

  1. I must admit I wasn’t too sure of this book when I first read the description. Like you I don’t know a lot about those that identify as genderqueer so I think I would find it pretty hard to identify with the characters in this book.
    Plus after reading your review I don’t know how well I would do with the “non-fiction-info-dump” kind of book you have described.
    It sounds like a nice idea, and a relevant topic for todays world, but I don’t think it would be my kind of thing to read 😦

    • It’s certainly a nice idea, but I’m not so sure that it was executed in the best possible way. It’s SO nice to see such subjects represented. I just found it a bit too ‘info dump’ for my liking. Her debut novel is outstanding though, and I would read another book from her.

  2. I’m in the middle of this one at the moment and having similar feelings to you. I love that this is a book so focused on gender, we definitely need more books like this one, but sections of it do feel very info-dumpy. I really don’t like Carroll, who has some serious transphobia going on, and I’m also not keen on this idea in the book that genderqueer is what people identify as before they decide whether they’re male or female – that’s like saying people call themselves bisexual until they decide if they’re straight or gay, which just isn’t true.

    I’m going to finish this one later and then I’ll see what I think of the book as a whole, but I’m not enjoying it as much as Lies We Tell Ourselves!

    • I shall definitely look out for your thoughts on this one! I completely agree with what you’re saying. I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s felt this way about the book. It’s a shame as Lies We Tell Ourselves was so incredible.

  3. Great review! I actually never read Lies we tell ourselves (though it has been sitting on my Kindle forever), but I have heard great things about this author. I have been curious about this one because the premise sounded so interesting. I am sorry there were some issues with it. Sounds like it is still worth reading though.

  4. Awww this is kind of a disappointment for me 😦 But I can see how it appeared as way too textbook-y. It also seems like it was just used to inform people (which is good, so to say) about the topic, but it didn’t execute it well through a story.

    Nice review Chrissi! I also loved Lies We Tell Ourselves, but I think I will pass on this one!

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