Thursday, 26 November 2015

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Paperback, 409 pages
Published October 22nd 2015 by MIRA Ink


"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?"

My Review:

This was a really interesting novel about Toni who is struggling with gender issues and Toni's girlfriend, Gretchen, who is trying to be supportive through the process while at a different college. The story is told from both their points of view which helped give both their perspectives and sometimes gave better clarification of what was going on.

I liked Gretchen's character as she is trying to find her own feet at college whilst trying to understand what Toni is going through. Although she did make mistakes her heart was in the right place.

Throughout the novel Toni is trying to decide which gender to identify as and avoids using pronouns like he or she, him or her. While writing this I'm trying not to refer to Toni as either gender but it is really difficult. The author made it seem quite natural in the beginning but it sometimes disrupted the flow of the story and did get a bit grating after a while, particularly when Toni then debates over other different ways of referring to people. Toni's new group of friends at college are all going through similar things which helps Toni in some ways, but it seemed to me that it also put pressure on Toni to make decisions faster than Toni would have felt comfortable with otherwise.

I found Toni's indecisiveness and self-absorption quite frustrating at times, but the book definitely highlights how confusing it must be to feel as though you have been born in the wrong body. This is the first novel I have read with characters who are dealing with transgender issues and it really brought to light how this affects both that person's daily life and the impact on their family and friends.

This was a thought provoking read. 3 out of 5.

About the Author:

Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. Robin is married and lives in Washington, D.C., with an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

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