I like to think of myself as someone who can forecast a book’s plot twists. I’m usually pretty good at sifting through the little details meant to foreshadow, instead using them to sniff out the real culprit in a story. Thus, reading What You Left Behind was a challenging read for me. The author wove an interesting story with intricate details that constantly threw me off.
The story starts with a motorcycle accident that kills a young homeless man in sleepy Radcote. With the discovery of a suicide note, it appears that Dean has become the first in a new rash of teen suicides to rock the town’s residents. The reader is then introduced to Lorraine, a police detective supposedly on vacation to visit her sister Jo and nephew Freddie. Instead, she is compelled to explore the suspicious circumstances behind Dean’s death as another teen is found dead of an apparent suicide just days later.
As Lorraine trudges through Radcote trying to investigate what her gut tells her are not simply suicides, the reader is given glimpses of reality. The town is not so sleepy nor its people as innocent as they try to appear. There’s Jo’s affair which led to her separation from her husband; that separation is allegedly what sent her son Freddie into a depression. The truth was that he is getting bullied so mercilessly that he thinks his only choice is to kill himself. Sonia and Tony are reeling from their son Simon’s suicide, with Sonia throwing her energies into a local homeless shelter with her daughter Lana. Gil, Tony’s developmentally disabled brother sees nearly everything in the town but can’t seem to get it out except for mysterious, yet intricately detailed drawings. It’s sometimes tiring to keep up with everyone’s emotional turmoil, but the result is a book that makes the reader invested in the outcomes for each person. Everyone has a role in the actual events, and all certainly have their own secrets.
Reading this book was like looking at a blurry image coming into focus. It’s told from several perspectives, but not always clearly; the reader is left to figure who the speaker is and figure out where their perspective fits in the larger puzzle. When perspectives shift between first and third-person perspectives, it takes a moment to get your bearings and figure out why their story matters. I found the shifts a bit jarring, but it kept me on my toes while reading and paying more attention to .
The best part is that What You Left Behind has anything but a typical plot and resolution. Whenever I thought I knew the truth, Hayes threw me for a tailspin. I often found myself going back and rereading passages with an “ah ha! I see what you did there …” and I loved every second. Even to the very end, I thought I’d accepted the plot for what it was, but then ended the book with the sense that I should have known all along, but had NO real idea what was actually taking place.
What You Left Behind is a good read. It’s suspenseful without being trite. I thought it could have given a more detail to the bullying storyline with Freddie. I thought it would factor more prominently in the resolution, but it was just another plot device to keep the suspense up. While the book didn’t suffer, I felt it just wrapped it up too nicely for the sake of ending the book. Overall, I recommend this book.