What I Leave Behind

What I Leave Behind

For Ages: 14 - 99
“An artful exercise in melancholy…Every reader will love openhearted Will.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Haunting, introspective.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Emotionally raw…[A] piercing narrative.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“McGhee artfully illustrates the tangled web wherein grief intertwines with the mundane.” —BCCB

After his dad dies of suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this exquisitely crafted story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each, by award-winning and bestselling author Alison McGhee.

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.
  • Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | 
  • 208 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781481476560 | 
  • May 2018 | 
  • Grades 9 and up | 
  • Lexile ® HL550L
List Price $17.99 (price may vary by retailer)
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Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

What I Leave Behind

By Alison McGhee

About the Book

“Sometimes you got to walk the day out of you.” That’s what sixteen-year-old Will does. He walks. And as he walks, he thinks about the homeless man on the street, the lonely little boy who loves butterflies, or the dog who lives his life on a chain. Full of empathy, Will discovers that acts of kindness not only help others, but begin to help him come to terms with his father’s suicide. Told in beautifully crafted chapters of one hundred words over one hundred pages, What I Leave Behind shows how the universe can reveal itself in mysterious ways, and how, with an open heart, the most broken hearts can be healed.

Questions for Group Discussion

1. Will is highly sensitive and observant. Early in the story, he thinks, “Tonight the air itself is dark. That happens sometimes. It’s not just the lack of sun, it’s the presence of darkness.” What do you think Will means by this thought?

2. Will has an understanding of human nature that goes well beyond his sixteen years. Discuss the character traits that make Will a sympathetic character. How are Will’s social skills an asset to him?

3. “Music is the refuge of the lonely” is an adage that Will’s father often said. What is a refuge? Do you agree with this adage? Explain. Offer ex see more

More Books from this Author

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Pablo and Birdy
Maybe a Fox
Firefly Hollow

About the Author

Alison McGhee
Dani Werner

Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee is the New York Times bestselling author of Someday, as well as Maybe a FoxFirefly HollowLittle BoySo Many DaysStar BrightA Very Brave Witch, and the Bink and Gollie books. Her other children’s books include All Rivers Flow to the SeaCountdown to Kindergarten, and Snap. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Laguna Beach, California. You can visit her at AlisonMcGhee.com.