cover image What I Leave Behind

What I Leave Behind

Alison McGhee. Atheneum/Dlouhy, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4814-7656-0

In this spare, emotionally raw novella, the deeply thoughtful 16-year-old narrator, Will, vainly tries to recreate his father’s cornbread recipe, and he walks through L.A. neighborhoods while his mom works overnight at the hospital. In finely honed chapters, each introduced by a Chinese character, McGhee (Never Coming Back) crafts a slim cast of strongly sketched individuals, including Will’s socially awkward boss at the Dollar Only store, his childhood friend Playa, and Mrs. Lin, who operates a Chinese blessings store. The narrative gradually reveals the troubles Will seeks to walk off. “Sometimes the right route is the route not past other places, places you maybe love but can’t walk by right now. Like Playa’s house. Like the blessings store. Like the river bridge over Fourth Street.” McGhee skillfully evokes sense memory, as Will attempts to find solace in his nighttime wanderings. Ultimately, the piercing narrative offers an affirmation of remaining connected to others through loss as Will embraces his relationships and begins to heal. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties. (May)