Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: What She Left Behind by Tracy Bilen

Title: What She Left Behind
Author: Tracy Bilen
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: May 1st 2012
Pages: 236
Genre: Conemporary YA; mystery
Source: Bought
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Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it. Each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late…for them both.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

While reading the book, I really liked What She Left Behind. The mystery aspect is really well done, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what happened alongside Sara. Especially the last 50 pages or so are gripping - the suspense is so high, I couldn't put the book down. If you look at What She Left Behind as a mystery, it's a very good book. It had me terrified, like a good mystery should.

Sara's dad is a total psychopath. The physical abuse he puts his family through is so strong it's scary, but what really terrified me is the mental aspect - he is completely crazy. Sara's brother Matt died a few months ago, but the dad basically pretends (or really believes?) that Matt is still alive. He talks about him as if he were still there, he gets mad when Matt isn't home for dinner or when the chore he told Sara Matt should do doesn't get done. And he expects the rest of his family to pretend, too - it's gotten routine that the father asks why Matt isn't home for dinner, and Sara tells him he's at play practice, or whatever Matt would have been doing that day if he were still alive. When someone doesn't play along, he gets even more violent. And that's just one example - Sara's dad is a delusional psychopath, and he is terrifying.

But even though I liked the mystery and thought that the dad's character was very well-written, something about this book didn't sit right with me. I think it's how much it focuses on the mystery, the violence and the thrill, instead of discussing the issue of domestic abuse. I'm not saying it should have been preachy or anything like that - of course not every book needs to have a strong message to be a good book. But I think because of the focus on the mystery, the emotional aspect falls short. Books dealing with abuse are really interesting to me - it's fascinating to get into the mind of someone who's being abused, to try to understand why they don't leave the abuser or go to the police. And that part isn't really addressed in What She Left Behind - it's set after Sara and her mom decide to leave, so it makes sense we don't get as much insight into why they wouldn't leave, but I still would have liked to know some more about what made them stay all those years. What She Left Behind is really just the story of Sara trying to save herself and her mother from her father - not the story of dealing with the emotional aspect of abuse.

I also didn't like the romance. It's a classic case of insta-love. Even though Sara's mom is missing, she immediately falls for Alex, the bad boy/football player, when he starts persuing her, for whatever reason. This, along with the dreaded 'I think I'm in love with you' three days after their first conversation, had me rolling my eyes at any scene that included Alex. Not to forget that this romance is developing while Sara is under duress because her mother is missing and her father is growing even more violent.

The thing we discover about Matt towards the end seemed kind of random to me. I don't want to spoil anything, but I just didn't see the point of that revelation, or how that made any difference in Sara's grieving process.

If you're looking for a thrill and a good mystery, I do recommend What She Left Behind. But if you go into it expecting a story about domestic abuse and what it means for the victims, like I did, you will be disappointed - the complete lack of emotion or emotional development concerning both her abusive father and Sara grieving her brother ruined that aspect for me.


  1. This books seems really amazing but... I'm looking for emotions in books, always. A little fail :(

  2. I just read Breaking Beautiful and that's about physical and emotional abuse between a boy and a girl in a romantic relationship - it was AMAZING! Hannah, I think you'd love it. And you really get into the mindset of the person who's being abused, and why she doesn't tell anyone (she's afraid her brother or mother will pay for it and become the next victims - if you read the book you'll see why).

    After Breaking Beautiful and the perfection of that book, I think I'd really like What She Left Behind because of the mystery and the focus of the after, of why her mom would just leave her in such a situation.

    With the romance, I get why you didn't like it. Especially after suffering abuse from a man, you'd think she'd be really cautious, and only trust a friend who's a boy she's known a long time.

    I really want to read this now! But I do get why you'd want to get a look into the inner workings of victims of abuse. Breaking Beautiful is perfect for that. I loved it.

    1. OH! If you want to read more about family abuse stories, try Waiting for Someday Soon by Tiffany King.

      It's a beautiful story of a girl who's dealing with an abusive mother (usually it's the father! so this is a different spin) while trying to protect her little brother from everything. Then she falls in love.

      I think you'll love it.

    2. I really want to read Breaking Beautiful! Sounds so good :D Maybe if you read one right after the other, they'd be good together, giving you both the mystery and the emotional stuff. But I still think What She Left Behind still should have included the emotional aspect.

      I hadn't heard of Waiting for Someday Soon before - adding it to my wishlist! Sounds good; I've never read a book about an abusive mother.

    3. I really like the first pages of Waiting for Someday - I like the metaphor a lot.

      Also, read the first few pages of What I Didn't Say. I LOVE the character's voice, and it's a guy's POV about life after trauma and a new disability. I know it's not abuse, but the healing process about trusting people and yourself again might be the somewhat paralleled.

      Flawed, which you've featured, looks like a good story about sexual abuse.

    4. OH! also I've heard good things about The Waiting Sky by Lara Zielin - the girl isn't the victim of abuse, but her mom's an alcoholic and she's collateral damage. It's a different type of abuse and she has to come to terms with making sure her life isn't all about that addiction.

    5. Ehh, I'm too lazy to read the first pages, sorry :p I'll just read the whole books and tell you what I thought when I can buy them next month :)

      I have The Waiting Sky on my wishlist as well! I love stories like that :)

    6. Oh I always read the first few pages - it gives me a sense of what it's like. It doesn't mean I won't buy it if it's a different style from what I like, but I like to know before starting it. I know, it's kinda OCD, but hey, I like my virtual browsing:)

    7. I found a new contemp you might like - Blind Spot by Laura Ellen. It's about a legally blind teen and she's implicated in a murder. I think with what you've read recently, you'd like it. I haven't read it but it's gotten good reviews and I've never read a story with a legally blind teen.

    8. Ha! I get how that makes sense, but I'm too lazy, so I never do that :p

      I have Blind Spot on my wishlist, too :)

  3. Sorry you didn't love it as much as you wanted to:P
    I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when going into this book, so it's nice to know what I'll be getting into.
    Thanks for the review:)

  4. Sorry it wasn't you're fave! I get really uncomfortable when reading about domestic abuse and violence, but one of the main reasons I read it is because they tend to stick with you, change you, mean something to you. I can totally understand why you would be frustrated with Alex...I mean with all of that crap happening in your life...I don't think it would be even possible to fall in love...particularly that quickly...mleh...great reveiw girly!


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