ARC Review: What We Left Behind-Robin Talley

9780373211753_BBGoodreads/Amazon/B&N/iBookssynFrom 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?

review3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Harlequin TEEN

Here’s the thing: There’s a lot of negativity about this book, mainly about the use of genderqueer, that takes away the positive aspects of this book, the things that make it so important, and truly shine. Despite the “misuse” of the genderqueer label, there are tons of other terms that are relevant and so crucial to be aware of when talking about the LGTBQIA community. 


  • You want to learn about the various terminology, and intricate associations with gender in the LGBTQIA community.
  • You’re looking for a complex contemporary full of unique, and diverse characters. 
  • You’re in search of an on the cusp evolution from high school to college. Mature YA-New Adult. 


  • The story is educational in that it spreads awareness of the terms and to question how to address people properly in the LGBTQIA community, especially those where it is not clear. It can be embarrassing but it is courteous and important to ask how they’d like to be addressed. For people who are not up on their gender and LGBT studies, this could be extremely enlightening. 
  • You can feel every ounce of anxiety and confusion from both Toni and Gretchen. The fear of confession, of being rejected, and not knowing who they want to be. Gretchen and Toni were together for so long that they forgot how to be without each other, they were more half of a whole than individuals, this is highlighted in Gretchen’s character. 
  • Gretchen and her group of friends were entertaining, fun, and got through hard discussions without digressing into a philosophical spiel.  Even situations that were WAY awkward were dealt with, whereas Toni evades and then makes spur of the moment choices that are as infuriating as Toni is annoying. Gretchen is a sweetheart. She’s constantly trying to be a peacemaker and the perfect girlfriend, she’s incredibly in love. It’s almost toxic because she loses sight of who she is. 


  • While there was decent information about transitioning, gender binaries, and all the terminology, the way it was presented was almost like a textbook. It took away from the overall emotional appeal. Everything became about definitions and getting it right that it was robotic. On top of that, it dragged down the pacing, making the story seem much longer and convoluted than it actually was.
  • Toni is hard to deal with. Toni is self-absorbed, and so caught up in being politically correct that Toni dismisses anyone who is not in the LGBTQIA group. Toni’s kinda snobby. Especially when you read Gretchen’s POV, Toni doesn’t even try. While I understand that Toni is dealing with serious stuff, trying to sort through feelings about the gender binary, how to present to the community, and emotions about dressing as male when Toni’s rejects the binaries, Toni’s horrible to Gretchen. Dismissive, cold even, and barely thinks beyond the limited scope of friends and self. 
  • The plot was underdeveloped and secondary characters functioned to further Toni’s label system. Each new character, even those that lasted, were not known for their personality but where they fit on a spectrum-in Toni’s little boxes. Almost ever conversation was about the use of gender neutral pronouns, labels to escape labels, and how to identify under label constraints. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

You and Me and Him Cover_hres18520642






Pleasant reading,