What We Left Behind – Robin Talley: A Review

It’s important to preface this review by saying that I, personally, do not have any experience of being transgender, and therefore cannot comment fully on whether this book is an accurate representation or not. I do, however, have a few trans* friends, from whom I have learnt as much as possible, and so I can only really base my critique of that part of the story, on the knowledge I have picked up through research and conversations, and not through lived experience, which of course, would be far more valid.
That said, I really enjoyed the narrative of this book. I felt that it gave you an insight to the struggles of figuring out where you fit on the gender spectrum, and what it’s like to love someone who is trying to do this. (Note: Reading other reviews suggests that the jury is very much out on whether this is, or is not a good representation)

The inner monologue of Toni/y, as they go off to college, meet new friends and try to decide on a ‘label’ of expression, was fascinating, as you went on the journey with them, trying to work out if they should be ‘sure’ of what they want.

Compared to Gretchen, who’s thoughts asked a lot of the questions that are never addressed as she struggled with the complexities of a long distance relationship, working out who she is without being Gretchen-and-Toni, and trying to support Toni through their self discovery.

Honestly though? I found 99% of their friends to be awful. A mixture of boring and whiny and unkind and pompous and all around pretty unlikeable in the main. I’m not sure why either of them would be friends with mostly awful people, though that said, at times Toni was pretty irritating too. I digress.

The worst was Gretchen’s friend (whose name escapes me, and he doesn’t deserve one anyway), who is INCREDIBLY offensive and transphobic and it is awful to read, especially when Gretchen doesn’t make much of an effort to correct him. Why would you want to be friends with someone like that?! I could understand if it was part of the story that later she puts him in his place about it, but nope.

The story was interesting from the point of view that I have not previously read a book that looks at gender in this way, and it was informative without being preachy. However, I’m not sure how much I liked their relationship, as it seemed to be pretty one-sided towards the end.

Overall, it was a good read. I enjoyed the romance of the first few chapters and it made me consider things that I hadn’t before, I just wish the characters were more likeable.


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