ARC Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

ARC Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley
What We Left Behind
by Robin Talley

Genres: Contemporary, Queer, New Adult
Publication date: October 27th, 2015
by Harlequin Teen

Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

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?

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t really read New Adult. It’s not because I have something against New Adult, I mean I’ve read and loved several New Adult novels, my problem is that I never feel like I am being represented in New Adult. I go to college and here is a truth that people won’t tell you: college is all about being angsty. The angst doesn’t magically disappear once you get into college. You aren’t magically transformed into an adult. There is angst, lots of it. And sometimes it’s romantic but a lot of times, it isn’t. A lot of times, it’s just you trying to figure yourself out and that’s what What We Left Behind is about. It is about angst, relationships but most of all, figuring life about. And no, there are no real answers at the end of the novel or in life, to be honest. For the first time, I feel actually represented in New Adult. I may not be dealing with the exact same problems as the main characters of the book (not even CLOSE) but there are so so many things that are reflective of MY college experience and I like that.

Also the diversity in this book. OFF THE FUCKING CHARTS. WE LOVE DIVERSITY. WE LOVE REPRESENTATION. Or I do… and if you don’t… that’s kind of just sad (SORRY. It had to be said.)

So is this book perfect? The answer to that is NO. Not at all. This book can be problematic, the characters can be really unlikeable sometimes and the romance is kind of a pain to read about but I also loved this book because it is REAL. It is so real I cannot even tell you (I’ll try though because I love y’all.)

The first crack in Toni and Gretchen’s relationship is when Gretchen doesn’t tell Toni right away that she would rather go to NYU instead of be in the same city as Toni (paraphrazing here guys…) Over the course of the book, their relationship really suffers, because you know what, LOVE ISN’T EASY. Especially if you’re an angsty teenager. Trust me (or don’t because I literally do not know anything.)

So let’s talk characters. Toni is selfish. Toni is a horrible significant other. Toni’s first semester of college is all about Toni. And you know what, that’s how most of us feel. College is that place where you come to find yourself. I crossed an entire ocean to do that! For a lot of people, that first term is about being around people who you think finally understand you and what you’ve gone through your entire life. So you want to be around them. You want to tell them your entire life story, You want to figure yourself out by using them as a lens. Another horrible truth: most college kids are actually pretty self-centred since we are all trying to figure ourselves and our  lives out. SORRY. ITS HARD. So even though Toni is kind of a jerk, Toni is realistic. Toni’s experiences are very real. I’ve seen several of my friends experience them, I’ve experienced some of them myself! 

So where does Gretchen fit in? Is she the perfect girlfriend? NO! She is also a big mess. Gretchen has been in a relationship with Toni for the past two years so her first term of college is all about her trying to find out who Gretchen is. And she doesn’t magically find out. She becomes friends with the most obnoxious kid in the world. Carroll was a major douchecanoe. HATED HIM. But people like him are out there. Who are obnoxious and fail to understand other people’s experiences. I only wished the way he ways in which he was problematic was explored more. Going back to Gretchen though, she kind of sucks that first term too. She is clingy, self conscious and has a low self-esteem. She is so realistic though. It takes her a long time to find out who Gretchen is and when she does, it’s beautiful. 

So would I recommend this book? Yes and No. This is clearly not a book for everybody and you know what, not everyone will love it. Not everyone will be able to deal with the angst (I usually hate angst too so I FEEL YOU), not everyone will want to look past all the bad, but at the end of the day, there will be people who will read this book and see themselves reflected in the experiences of these characters. Like I did.


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Rashika is a mysterious creature who likes to hide in the shadows. It's impossible to get to know her but if you must know, she is a huge bookworm. She also happens to have a huge sweet tooth so you can always lure her over the dark side by offering her something sweet (or bribing her with books).


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  1. says

    I loved ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’ by the same author as this, so I was looking to pick this up when it comes out ever since. I haven’t read much NA, but I’d really like to get into it, so this seems like a good book for me! I really love diversity, so I think I’ll like this too. I’ll have to be apprehensive about the dislikeable characters though. Great review, Rashika ♥

    ~Denise @ The Bibliolater
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  2. says

    Ahh, college. The time when everyone is clearly full of angst and pent up energy. I’d have to agree that we all have experienced that time when we are all about our boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s frustrating in real life, and since you mentioned that this book is REAL, then I might find myself getting frustrated by the characters, too.
    Dre @ Sporadic Reads recently posted…Review 264 : Nirvana by J.R. StewartMy Profile

  3. says

    I did kiiind of want to read this because I liked Lies We Tell Ourselves…buuuut…NA and I like NEVER get along. I haven’t ever found one that really made me happy. And unlikeable characters and I usually totally clash and go beyond being redeemed. *sigh* IT CAN BE A PROBLEM. So I don’t think I’m going to rush after this one, tbh. But I really liked your review!!
    Cait @ Paper Fury recently posted…The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell // too much politics and not enough wolvesMy Profile

  4. says

    This was a great review! I definitely agree with this. First off, THE DIVERSITY OF THIS BOOK. IT BLEW ME AWAY!
    Second of all, I also do love how realistic this was, especially with the portrayal of people. Sometimes it’s just the sad truth that people are like this especially going into college. Considering I am going to be going to college/university next year (I graduated yesterday) I enjoyed reading this book for that aspect.
    Josephine recently posted…If A Book Genie Appeared To Me Right Now, I’d Wish For… | Top Ten TuesdayMy Profile

  5. says

    I’m super weary about NA for the exact same reasons you mentioned. NA is hardly ever executed well and has transformed into this weird semi-erotic niche genre that doesn’t really feel like it’s about college kids at all. It’s nice to hear about a novel that’s different from the norm and I might check this one out!
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  6. says

    First, AMEN to college being a hot mess. College for me was MUCH more of a drama filled disaster than high school ever was. High school was happy fun time, and I loved every minute. College… college sounds like Gretchen’s experience, basically. Shannon in college sounds like Gretchen, sans significant other (or ANY experience in that arena at all). My self esteem was at an all time low, I was conscious of every move I made and was certain that there wasn’t a single person there that I could even moderately relate to.

    I NEED to read this book. I don’t know if I would have if not for your review, honestly. I steer clear of NA for similar reasons, but this… wow. I need to let go of those days, and I think that this book could be a great way to start that process. FABULOUS review, Rashika!!
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  7. says

    Oh my goodness! It looks like you’ve really been able to relate to this book in a multitude of ways. I haven’t really crossed the NA stage as of yet, because college is still six months away, but I’d love to pick this up sometime during that period so I can relate to it just as well as you did. The characters sound irritably lovable to me, lol. Beautiful review, Rashika!
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  8. says

    Oh I am glad to see this review! I wanted to read this but hadn’t seen anything about it. I would love to read a book about college that is more realistic and diverse. I mean college is messy. I know I was pretty selfish at that time but I think it is normal and that is how you grow ( that is what I tell myself anyways!) Really great review!
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  9. says

    Nice review, Rashika! I’ve recently read the book myself and agree on many of your points. Both characters had realistic problems that just show how imperfect we humans are, especially while we’re on the threshold to becoming an adult. I thought the ending was a bit lackluster, but the whole thing about Toni trying to find himself was well-done in my opinion.
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  10. says

    This book is going to be so hard to review, because there was a lot of things that were good, and others that I was shocked that made it in. Realistically, the book did a great job presenting characters that are not just instantly, or ever, likable. But why was some of the stuff that was said/brought up never called out? I would have rated this book higher if SOMETHING would have wrapped up with Carroll’s hatefulness and his racist/hateful attitude. I was very upset that there wasn’t more discussion about the PROBLEMS in the book. It was like the author couldn’t move past the romance to get to the core of the issues that cropped up in this book.
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    • Rashika says

      I FUCKING HATED C ARROLL, Lyn. He pissed me off and I had to put down the book so many times when he came up. I wanted to shake Gretchen for being friends with him and I am genuinely sad that Carroll was never really called out on the shit he said except for Gretchen thinking some stuff. At the same time though, I saw his presence as the author pointing out that just because someone is queer doesn’t mean they are going to respect other queer people’s experiences. It is a horrible horrible kind of intolerance and I thought that’s why the author threw him in there…. I HOPE I AM MAKING SENSE HERE??!?!

  11. says


    I think I will have to end up passing on this because I kind of don’t want to read about freshman years at college hahahhah. Not really trying to look back at that time haha! :)

    But awesome review Rashika! Glad you were able to enjoy the book and look past the angst!
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  12. says


    I’d been seeing varying reviews of this. I saw it a while back on NetGalley and just stared it down, contemplated whether I should request it or not, and ended up skipping it. I might go back to it, sometime. I’m not really a fan of NA either. I recently read a horrid one – 21 Stolen Kisses – and I couldn’t tolerate the cast AT ALL. NA is a tough genre. College is messy and angsty. Absolutely lovely review, Rashika!

  13. says

    This is probably one of the most real-est book review I have ever read, and I LOVED IT. I want to read this book, thanks to you. And not because I think I will like it, but because I want to know how it felt like. I’ve never been to college, and I’m probably too horrible to ever get in, so it would be a good experience for me to read this book. Thanks for the pretty honest review, girlie. <3
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