Published: 22nd October 2015
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Pages: 405 Pages
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?
Having read Lies We Tell Ourselves previously I knew that What We Left Behind would be another novel I’d enjoy from Robin Talley. However, I will admit that I wasn’t as impressed as I thought. Don’t get me wrong, it highlights some very important issues and it’s a recommendation for anyone that is experiencing the emotions, it was just 150 pages too long, in my opinion.
The novel is dual-narrated between the characters of Toni and Grertchen, who are girlfriends, embarking in separate lives in college. Although the novel is dual narrated, Toni’s life seems to make more of an apperance, something I was a little annoyed about. I quite liked Gretchen’s character and I wanted to know more about her and how she was feeling.
Firstly, I’d just like to say I know nothing of the Transgender Community, and little about the LGBT Community in general.
Toni is full of mixed emotions and doesn’t really know if she wants to make the transition of becoming a man. She has a large group of supportive friends who have experienced their own emotional journeys, with some even making the change and becoming the gender they feel more comfortable in. I can’t even imagine how Toni is feeling, it must be heartbreaking trying to feel ‘normal’ when you don’t want to be who you are. I’m so grateful that Toni had such supportive friends in college, but she did push Gretchen away and to me, Gretchen was the only person Toni could trust and admire.
I felt slight nostalgia when I was reading about them both attending college. It all begins with your emotions floating around the place because you’re missing home and it’s all so new to you. During your time at university/college you eventually find out who you are and you feel more comfortable being you. Before university, I was shy and quiet, and although never bad things, they were traits I felt stopped me from having fun. Going to university helped me come out of my shell and enjoy the experience.
Both, Toni and Gretchen deal with the same situations and I believe they really shouldn’t have been in a long distance relationship. If you love someone it doesn’t matter, but Toni is experiencing too much to even consider Gretchen and that was evident when they never saw each other – you’ve got to be 100% sure you’re both ready for the distance and change.
The book in a nutshell…
An emotional journey about self-discovery and teenage learnings.