When love may not conquer all, “What We Left Behind” by Robin Talley shows us it can

When love may not conquer all,

Robin Talley’s YA novel is the cliche we all need in our lives. The classic couple goes to college and goes through all these troubles and breaks up. But, this is a story about Toni and Gretchen. Toni identifies as genderqueer, so they’re not really into the whole she/her thing, but Gretchen identifies fully as female and a lesbian. The seemingly perfect couple gets a reality check when college time comes. Whether or not you like romance, “What We Left Behind” helps readers understand what it means to be lgbtq+. 


T (Toni) and Gretchen have been with each other since high school when Gretchen impulsively kissed T at a school dance. T’s family has never been supportive of anything involving lgbt, but Gretchen’s family is happy for the two. Everyone knows them as the couple who never fights. However, the transition to different universities is about to change that. While at university, the couple begins to experience what it’s like to find themselves as well as experience what it’s like to be away from each other. “What We Left Behind” can really help couples of all kind to relate and understand that it’s okay when sometimes you feel it’s not. 


Unlike other sexualized books about lesbians, Talley does a stand up job of really highlighting the importance of truly understanding lgbtq+ folk and what it’s actually like to be out. Talley magnificently helps readers understand the very complex terms and what people who identify as them go through. A friend of mine, who is a trans person, also finds this book very comforting. He is a trans male who did have a hard time trying to identify himself and really know who he is. Like T, he went through a lot of changes and was testing out a lot of different labels and tested to see which fit him most. My friend, who is bisexual, found this book and it really helped with her family life. She finally felt like she wasn’t the only one who’s family doesn’t accept them nor understand them. So, when she introduced them to “What We Left Behind,” her parents really changed their mindset and their relationship is stronger than ever. 


The only issue for me is that Gretchen was the epitome of toxicity. Being at Harvard, T’s very busy most of the time and doesn’t have time to check in with Gretchen, who is always blowing up T’s phone. She rarely ever tried to understand T whenever they were struggling to understand who they feel like; always playing victim. However, I think this helps people understand that lgbtq+ relationships are just the same as heterosexual relationships. Lgbtq+ youth and older can find help when they see these signs and know that they are not in a healthy relationship. They can be happier and free. 


I think “What We Left Behind” is the book to read if you have someone in your life you want to understand.  Or maybe if you are still questioning yourself. The different point of views from T and Gretchen really help carry the story and help readers understand each side of every story. You can definitely see where T begins to mature and develop into a better person as they go on the journey to understanding who they are. I could read this over and over again.