ARC Reviews

ARC REVIEW: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee


36373543Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Received From: NetGalley

After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.


GENDER: presumed cisgender


TROPES: hurt/comfort
TAGS: young adult, contemporary, black character, Latinx character, POC character, coming of age
WARNINGS: suicide mention, rape mention, gang rape, ableism, racism mention, fatphobia mention, cissexism/transphobia, animal cruelty


Let your feet find the way. You’ll know it when they do. Then let the day drain out of you. Let whatever comes into your head just float around in there.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this novel was the writing style. Every chapter is only 100 words and thus only one page. In some stories, I don’t think that this writing style would really work, but for this book, it set up nice pacing and was actually one of the things that kept me turning pages as fast as I could. I wanted to know more, wanted to know how things would proceed after the 100 words cutoff. And while this could have made everything feel disjointed and abrupt, McGhee somehow made it work so that it almost read as a kind of poetry.

Of course, the main thing I liked about the book was the main character, Will, as well as the supporting characters (Playa, Major Tom, Little Guy, Mama). It’s been three years since Will’s dad died by suicide and he still struggles daily to live with his sadness and the sense of loneliness his father’s absence has left in his life. While this book was utterly heartbreaking, I enjoyed watching Will realize that he can be sad and happy at the same time, and he brings about this happiness by doing nice things for other people–leaving toys for Little Guy to help in his butterfly watching; the way he interacts with Major Tom and accepts the man for who he is; bringing food to Superman, the homeless man who lives around the corner; responding to notes from his mom; and leaving gifts on Playa’s front porch every night after she’s raped in order to give her small slices of happiness in her own life, which has been flipped upside down.

Another thing that I liked regarding the characters was that, while Will gets angry and sad and upset over Playa being raped, he doesn’t make it all about him and his feelings. Sure, he wishes he’d done things differently that night and not left her alone at the party, but he focuses on her feelings and making sure she knows he’s there for her instead of centering himself.

The one thing that gave me some pause was that Will and Playa are characters of color while the author is white. White McGhee doesn’t try to tackle topics like racism and the systemic oppression of people of color, it’s worth noting the power imbalance of a white person writing POC.


6261Alison McGhee writes novels, picture books, poems, and essays for all ages, including the novel Never Coming Back (October 2017) and the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller SOMEDAY, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. She lives in Minneapolis, California and Vermont.


Barnes & Noble
Book Depository



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s