What I Leave Behind — Alison McGhee (ARC Review)

April 16, 2018

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

TITLE: What I Leave Behind
AUTHOR: Alison McGhee
RELEASES: May 15th, 2018; Atheneum
GENRE: Contemporary
SYNOPSIS: 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.


Did he feel like he was one thing on the outside and something else entirely different on the inside? Does Major Tom feel that way? Does Playa? Do I? Sometimes.

I went into this book with a lot of optimistic curiosity, because it’s admittedly an unusual formatting choice for a story. The book is written in 100 chapters, with 100 words per chapter – that’s it. Fun fact for you: 10,000 words total, so despite being 200+ pages, this is what is called a novelette! Anyways…

What I Leave Behind follows the thought processes of a kid whose life has been flipped on its head by his father’s passing, and now, the sexual assault his best friend has just been through. This is not a “point A to point B” sort of tale; instead, it’s just Will’s day-to-day life working in a dollar store, visiting the Chinese blessings store down the street, trying to make the world a little brighter, and many desperate, failed attempts to replicate his father’s cast-iron skillet cornbread.

I really wanted to love this book, because the synopsis made me feel like it had a lot of potential, but it fell short for me, sadly. I just didn’t feel like much of anything happened. It was mostly just a repetition of what was essentially the same scene over and over again: Will going to work, cracking silly jokes at his boss to make the guy’s day better, and then going home to cook cornbread. The only real moments the story veered off from this pattern were his incredibly brief interactions with Superman (the homeless man who eats Will’s gross cornbread failures), Playa (the aforementioned best friend), or a little boy down the street who’s obsessed with butterflies.

I dunno, I mean, it’s a sweet story. Will is a really good kid, and my heart went out to him a whole lot, and I loved his attempts to cheer up the people he cared about, but… I just don’t feel like anything happened. It mostly felt like a social experiment – “how far can I get with this ‘100 words per chapter for 100 chapters’ thing?”

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Atheneum for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!



More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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