Posted in Book Reviews, Posts

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

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?


I’ve never really read anything that looks at trans people, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I’m so glad I did though, because I couldn’t put it down!
A very important note before we start though; I’m going to refer to Toni as she, because Toni was constantly changing what she wanted to be called. Instead of swapping depending on what point in the book I’m talking about, I’m just going to stick with she for now.

We were presented with the perfect relationship between a girl, Gretchen, and her very confused partner, Toni. I was instantly in love with their relationship. These two adore each other, and despite it being an awful insta-love thing, you could tell they were really properly in love. However, as the book goes on, you can really see how un-perfect their relationship is. Gretchen in particular, in my opinion, has the potential to be a lot happier than she is with Toni. It was all the flaws of the relationship that made me really love it, because you could see them start to learn what was wrong. It was realistic, and honest. And the reader was put into the relationship with them, so while they were discovering everything, we were right there with them. It’s also so important that this was a major part of the story, so Toni’s discovery of who she wanted to be wasn’t all that was talked about.

The bit that really got me thinking, though, was Toni’s gender identity. Toni has no idea who she is, or who she wants to be. Is she just a lesbian? Gender non conforming? A boy? A girl? Toni has no idea, and it’s only when she gets to university that she starts to meet people that could help her out. I’m terribly uneducated with this sort of thing, like Gretchen. I understand trans (a bit), but gender non conforming? What is that? I’ve seen a few reviews saying that it was badly misrepresented in this book, but as I know nothing, I can’t say whether that’s right or wrong. That’s why it was so good to have a character like Gretchen, who had no idea what any of that stuff meant either, so the reader doesn’t feel like they’re being thrown into the deep end with all this new terminology. Even with stuff we didn’t quite understand, it was still really cool to see Toni go through everything, and how other people responded to that. Toni became close with a genderqueer (am I using that word right?) group, who had almost all gone through a change from man to woman, or vice versa. It was so good for Toni to have someone to explain how it all worked to her.

My only problem was I didn’t like how Toni reacted to some of the changes she was going through. She didn’t explain anything to Gretchen, but expected her to understand and accept everything without too many questions. She went through a phase of thinking no one should be called by gender-words, like he and she, so never used them. And don’t get me wrong, if Toni wants to be called Toni instead of he or she, that’s fine. But someone like Eli, who has been brave as heck and changed from identifying as a girl to a boy? Don’t you think that deserves some sort of recognition? Or even just Gretchen, who has always been a girl, and is perfectly happy with that. There’s nothing wrong with calling her a girl, right? She did get a bit of telling off from some of her friends, but I felt like she could have changed a lot more character-wise than she did.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this book. And I’m excited to see the rest of what Robin Talley has written!

Four Stars



I was a book blogger for a while, and I now blog about every little thing in life I can think of. Bear with me while I try all these new posts out... I'm a New Zealand teen who gets angry about the world (but not angry enough for tumblr). I like to capture the world through photos and words, and read in all the moments in nz-squadbetween. I have an overwhelming desire to see every corner of the world I possibly can, and hug the people I love in all those corners. I can't do make up to save myself, and you're more likely to find me buying matching stationary than matching clothes. My nerd hobbies include a new found love of the Avengers, reading YA, watching Game of Thrones, How I Met Your Mother, and every vlogger I can find, and being the last person on the music bandwagons. I have big plans for the rest of my life, including university, teaching, travelling, and having an army of puppies. I plan to blog every second of it!

4 thoughts on “What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

  1. I loved your review! It is indeed hard to find sensitive books about trans and it looks like the author represented very well how difficult and confusing the process may be! I’m not sure if I’ll pick it up because Toni already ate at my nerves on the review with the non-gender recognition deal, so I think I’d be way more annoyed reading the book, oops! (I think that love is totally free, but either you are a boy or a girl. You can be a girl trapped in a boy’s body and a boy trapped in a girl’s body, it’s really okay. But you are still a boy or a girl. Does Toni want to become an angel or maybe an alien? hahaha)

    Liked by 1 person

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