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What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi


Topics of Interest: soccer, teenage angst, romance, pregnancy, journaling, death, identity

Curriculum Connections: English, Health and Physical Education, Family Studies

Gender: M/F; F/M

Age: 14+

Blurb: So you know how it is the morning after a terrible night’s sleep? You stumble around like a drunk person, head pounding, speech slurred, feeling sick? The only thing you can focus on is the thought of returning to bed—your wonderful, cozy, floating-on-a-cloud, sent-from-heaven bed? In fact, you’re almost willing to sell your soul just for the opportunity to dive back in for a couple more minutes of shut-eye?

Seventeen-year-old Ryden knows exactly how that feels, and he feels it every morning. Sleep deprivation is ruining his ability to concentrate in school, and is leeching his energy for playing soccer—the sport he is being recruited for by UCLA—and his job at the local supermarket. It’s his senior year: it’s supposed to be the best year of his life, but he’s too exhausted and busy to enjoy it. Why?

Because of his baby.

As a single dad, Ryden has it tough. His mom babysits Hope when she can, but he has no one else to help raise his daughter. He can barely take care of Hope and attend school, work, and practise: If only he hadn’t killed Hope’s mother, things would be a lot easier.

But Meg’s dead because she got pregnant, and no amount of regret and grief will bring her back. So Ryden has to figure things out, because what Meg left behind changed his life forever.

Flavour: “And then [my friends] are dispersing again, going back to their beer and their games, laughing and making out and grilling hamburgers. They’re doing fine without me. A few groups of people whisper to each other as they glance my way. I’m nothing more than a novelty. I don’t know what I was thinking coming here. I guess I thought I could, for a moment, go back to being ‘Ryden Brooks,’ instead of ‘Hope’s dad.’ But that’s who I’ll be for the rest of my life. Even if I don’t have the first clue how to do it.”

‘She loves you,’ [mom said]. ‘I just have more experience handling babies—that’s what she’s responding to. You’ll get it. You just need to keep practicing.’ ‘I don’t want to.’ The words are out before I can stop them. I don’t even think I really mean them. Or maybe I do. I don’t know. I did everything wrong with Meg, and I really don’t want to do everything wrong with Hope too. But there’s a part of me that thinks I might as well stop busting my ass trying.”

“A thought creeps into the back of my brain: if it’s this hard to figure out what to do with Hope now, what’s it going to be like when I’m at UCLA?”

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