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?
What You Left Behind is a heart breaking book of loss and recovery. By far, it is one of the saddest books that I have read in a long time. In fact, if I were to say there was only one flaw about this book, it would be that it was TOO sad. Which is saying a lot, coming from someone who has survived novels like The Fault in Our Stars and the likes.
The book starts right in with Ryden and his six month old baby, Hope. As to be expected, he is discouraged having to take care of a baby at the young age of 17 without much help. And just to pile onto the already terrible situation, Hope is the reason that Meg - Ryden’s lover - is dead. He doesn’t blame little Hope, but there is a part of him that is unhappy with the little girl whom he isn’t even sure likes him. But as a reader, I couldn’t blame him too much. After all, he just went through the traumatic experience of losing somebody that he loved dearly and in the process, had a huge responsibility placed on his shoulders.
While juggling school, his job, and his fatherly responsibilities, Ryden is also hoping to play for his High School Soccer team, and hopefully get a scholarship into college with it. But with his already precarious situation, it can only go downhill when he discovers that Meg left a journal for her sister - and when he sees a check list of journals Meg chose to write on the back of it and sees his name, he knows there is a journal out there waiting for him. He thinks that it will help him cope; but his mom and friends think it will only make it worse.
So he works out schedules with Meg’s best friend Aaron about babysitting Baby Hope while he goes to soccer practice and looks for journals. And in between time doing that, he’s got Joni on the side. But while the synopsis of the book may allude to this being a more romantic novel, it is not something I would categorize it as personally. Romance is in there for sure, but it is far from the purpose of the book. What You Left Behind is a story of loss and getting back up on your feet after everything has gone wrong. Ryden’s situation brought me to tears and forced me to take regular breaks because it was honestly too much for me to read sometimes. But then, isn’t life like that sometimes? Ryden’s in a bad situation for sure, but we all find ourselves having trials - some bigger than others, but we’ve all been there. This book was an inspiring tale of being able to rise again and smile more, even after you feel like everything good has vanished.
In the end, it was a good read. Will you be an emotional wreck? Most likely. But it’s worth it in the end.