What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Review)

26162107I received this free from the publishers via Netgalley

All quotes are from my arc edition and may be subject to change

Toni and Gretchen are the perfect couple. They never fight and are expected to be together forever. But then college comes along, Gretchen to NYU and Toni to Harvard and they are sure they’ll be ok. However, the distance does put a toll on their relationship. Toni is genderqueer and when T finds a sense of belonging with a group transgender upperclassman, Gretchen struggles to find out who she is outside of their relationship.

I adored Robin Talley’s other novel Lies We Tell Ourselves, so What We Left Behind was high on my anticipated reads for this year. However, I was left extremely disappointed with this novel.

I’m not massively educated on things like transgender or genderqueer. What We Left Behind suggests that those who identify as genderqueer are just confused about their gender identity, where as my impression was that those who are genderqueer identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders. However, What We Left Behind seems to insinuate that it is a transitional period for people to decide which gender they belong to. When talking about a transgender meeting, this is said:

“Come hang out with us, T!” Pete calls. “We’re having a support group meeting for the formerly genderqueer!”

The plot was also incredibly weak. It actually read like a textbook on gender identity and sexual orientation, and the only noticeable plot was the relationship between Toni and Gretchen, which in itself was weak.

Toni actually has quite a large disdain for straight and cis-gendered, and outright feminine girls, and T won’t give them the time of day for that exact reason.

‘Besides, who the hell are they to talk? Joanna gets up at six in the morning to start a ninety-minute hair care regimen, and Felicia wears designer high heels every day even though they always get caught in the sidewalks. Joanna and Felicia are the ultimate gender conformists. Neither of them has the right to talk about feminism until they stop posting pictures of themselves in bikinis’

I personally didn’t know that not being feminine was a requirement of being a feminist.

Why do they always have to dress that way? Gretchen doesn’t. Neither does Ebony. It’s like Joanna and Felicia are trying to be as girly as humanly possible

While some of the girls aren’t nice people in general, I think this is the wrong message to send to young people. All girls don’t have to dress the same. Some are ‘girly’ and some are not. People dress and look differently. Toni is really adverse to gender specific pronouns and gender specific labels and things in general. Which is fine, but T seems to want to force T’s views on everyone else, and tries to force labels on others and everyone T meets T tries to put them in a box and to see which box they fit into, such as being transgender and cis etc, and then T decides whether T wants to like them.

“You couldn’t tell about Eli, so you were checking him out hard-core for, like, ten minutes.”

When Toni doesn’t use pronouns for T’s transgender friends, and T gets called out on it as to why it is problematic and why it is important for them, T still won’t use pronouns for them for the sole reason as T doesn’t like them.

Toni also seems happy that T brings some LGBT diversity to T’s roommates, as if race and sexuality is some fashion label.

I’m the only one of my roommates who’s white. Ebony and Felicia are both black, and Joanna is Vietnamese. I felt a little weird at first, like I was boring next to them. Then I remembered that I bring in the LGBTQIA diversity angle, so I was still contributing

Also, Gretchen’s new friend is transphobic and it is never really addressed and Gretchen still continues to befriend him without addressing the issue.

Overall, I wasn’t particular impressed with most of this novel and it is a huge disappointment. Perhaps, i’m wrong with what i’m talking about, so please do correct me and call me out if i’ve said something wrong/offensive.

MY RATING: ★☆☆☆☆

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4 thoughts on “What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Review)

  1. Wow! We have totally opposite views on this book. I felt like the whole effect of this portrayal of Toni was to show the struggles that these people have in not just being gender queer but also trying to figure out where they belong and who they are. I saw this as a journey of discovering one’s personal identity and sexuality/gender type rather than an offensive approach to the subject. This was a great perspective to read from though!

    1. I can totally see that, however, I was under the impression that people who identified as genderqueer were not confused, and some other people have commented in their reviews, and compared it to being bisexual – many people will try and tell them their sexual orientation isn’t valid and they will eventually pick a side (e.g male or female attraction), and this is how the book portrays genderqueer in my perspective, as if it is a transitional period when the individual decides on a gender. This review here – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1327397648?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1 – talks about how this book does portray the frustration of being non-binary well, but not the portrayal of genderqueer, if you know what I mean? I know loads of people who have enjoyed this, so I imagine it depends on the person, but there was also some messages I didn’t like in terms of Toni’s view of other characters, especially the straight feminine females, as if it makes them any less of a person, and any less of a feminists to be ‘girly’. Each to their own, I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      1. I totally understand the angle that you’re coming from and I agree in a way! While I didn’t see it this way, I can definitely understand it and I can see the way the book did display genderqueer as a transitional phase. I think when dealing with topics such as this, it’s very delicate and easy to portray it in a way that can be offensive for people. But we definitely need more novels that address these things!

      2. Exactly, I imagine it is hard to please everyone, I think it definitely does depend on the person and how they interpret and perceive it I guess. I also agree, we definitely need more books on the topic though 🙂

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