Librarianship,  Reviews

What She Left Behind – Tracy Bilen

There was a new stack of YA books that our library had just received the other day, and this was in the pile.  I had seen this book around some YA blogs lately, and I was drawn in by the cover.  So I decided to give it a go!

This is the story of Sara, a teen living in an abusive household.  Months after her brother killed himself, Sara and her mother plan to leave Sara’s abusive father.  But when Sara’s mother doesn’t show up at their arranged meeting place, and doesn’t show up that evening at home, Sara has to deal with questions she’s afraid to find the answer to.  Questions like, did her father discover their plan and kill her mother?  And if he didn’t, did she leave without Sara?

This is a really good book.  It is very sad, and there were several times where I teared up.  Between the memories of her brother, and the coldness of her father, Sara’s life is full of misery, and the way she deals with it seemed, to me, very believable of someone in that situation.  I can’t say I agreed with her behaviour a lot of the time, and I did get annoyed with her at times, but I can definitely see how someone in her situation could act in the way that she did, so I can forgive this annoyance.

This is without question a painful book.  The simple fact of Sara’s brother, Matt, being dead before the book begins means that there can never be a totally happy ending.  The character of Matt sounded great, and I would have loved to actually see him in the story.  I was very sad that he was gone right from the beginning, and that sadness stayed with me throughout the entire tale.  But even without Matt’s death, there are other sadnesses in this story.  The complex emotions that Sara feels for her father are tragic, and real.  She loves him as much as she hates him, and this is a story that does not (and I believe could not) have a wonderfully peppy ending.

I was surprised by the amount of suspense and action in this story.  It was as much a mystery as it was a look at abuse and living with grief, which was unexpected, but not unwelcome.  There is also romance in What She Left Behind, although I am not sure I liked this aspect of the book.  I actually have nothing against the relationship that develops, but I kept thinking it was inappropriate for this kind of story.  It is nice that Sara had some normal teenage moments amidst the chaos in her life, but at the same time, things are so intense in her life that making out with a cute boy seemed jerky and a bit out of place to me.  However, for the sake of Sara’s joy, I will let it go!

What She Left Behind is not a totally tragic story, but it is painful in many places.  It is, overall, balanced, and I think that is a good thing.  If you are looking for a story that is full of action, suspense, heartache, romance, unhappy endings, and some happy ones, I would definitely recommend this book.


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