Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Review by Lauren

Source: copy for review; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: 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, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid. 

The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship. 

While Toni worries that Gretchen won't understand Toni's new world, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in this puzzle. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begin 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 read Talley's debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, and really loved it, so I was excited to see what else she had in store. While I did enjoy What We Left Behind and I think it talks about a lot of important issues, it's not one I would tell people to run out and buy. Instead, check it out from your local library and see what you think!

Toni starts to identify as genderqueer, where before she told people she was a lesbian and she had a great girlfriend in Gretchen, who also identified as lesbian. Genderqueer is a term that can be difficult to understand, so I'd suggest checking out the term here or doing your own search online. I'm not an expert on the word and what it means for different people. For Toni, it seems to be that she doesn't want to relate to just one gender. She's not transgender at the moment because she's fine being a girl and not having surgery or doing anything to really change that. However, she doesn't really like being called a girl.

Confusing? Yeah, a bit...but I do think Talley did a good job. I know I read another review for this book where they thought genderqueer was being lumped into transgender and they didn't like that, but I didn't really think that was the case. I think they have some similarities at times, and it's important to talk about both of these terms and how they relate to real live people.

Beyond all of this, the book is mostly about two girls growing up and going to two different colleges and trying to make that work. Toni is so focused on figuring out who she is and/or wants to be, and Gretchen is worried she's being left behind and has sort of forgotten what it's like to be one whole person instead of one half of a couple. These are all important topics and the two main characters do their best to figure life out. They didn't always act in the way I wish they would, but then again, not everyone does. People make mistakes; people are sometimes a bit blind. It's all about figuring it out.

In the end, I'd say this was more of a 3/5 for me if I were to rate it. Good, but not great.


Unknown said...

I'll be honest, all these labels are making my head spin. I try to be PC, but it's hard to remember the associations, definitions, nuances, sometimes.

Verushka said...

Long distance relationships are bloody hard, aren't they? This sounds good, and thank you for the link to more info on what it is to be genderqueer -- I definitely need a read of it.

JezzebellJC said...

It sounds like you could get tripped up on what that word really means as it could be different for different people. I'm glad you enjoyed the story though it wasn't great.

Lola said...

I don't think I ever read a book with a genderqueer, I sort of udnerstand what the term means, but it's still a bit vague to me.
I think relationships are a lot about figuring things out and the long distance thing sound like it complicates things. Great review!

Heather @ Random Redheaded Ramblings said...

To be honest I have never heard of genderqueer, so will need to google it like you say but the book sounds like a good look at long distance relationships and the problems that come with them.

Thanks for sharing!