From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love may not be 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, 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? – From the author’s website

I would like to start off by saying that I am a cisgender woman, so I will try to keep my thoughts on the transgender issues brought up in What We Left Behind out of this review, as I do not know what it is like to be under the trans umbrella.

This book turned out to be something I was not expecting. I had hoped for a loving relationship with an insightful look into gender identity, but that is not really what I got. Gretchen and T’s relationship is codependent in an unhealthy way, with very little (quality) communication happening. I was so frustrated with these characters, which made it hard to get through the book. While there is love and support shown between Gretchen and T, I feel that the non-communication and constant fretting overshadows what could have been a better learning experience for the two.

As I said before, I am cisgender and therefore do not have the personal experience to form an opinion on whether or not the trans representation in this book is positive. I do think that it was good of Talley to show people in various forms of transition and that all of the transgender/non-binary/genderqueer characters have conversations about gender identity and politics.

This book isn’t necessarily bad, but it certainly isn’t good. I hope Talley’s third book, As I Descended (due in September) is a better contribution to the LGBTQ+ YA genre.

 – Amara Charters is a queer femme working as an auxiliary Library Technician for the Vancouver Public Library. She mainly works in Children’s and Teens Services. In her downtime, she likes to embroider, watch a lot of Netflix, and talk about LGBTQ+ history.


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