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What She Left Behind

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“Don’t even think of leaving… I will find you,” he whispered. “Guaranteed.”

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.

With 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.

236 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2012

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About the author

Tracy Bilen

2 books162 followers
Tracy Bilen is the YA author of What She Left Behind and Whisper. She is a high school French teacher in Michigan where she lives with her husband and children. Tracy studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and taught Spanish at a high school ski academy. She loves biking, traveling, and red velvet cake.

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5 stars
697 (29%)
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855 (35%)
3 stars
627 (26%)
2 stars
156 (6%)
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48 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 324 reviews
Profile Image for Maggie61.
726 reviews3 followers
July 31, 2012
Ever read a book and you just don't care what happens, you just want it to be over? This is so NOT one like that. I couldnt get to the end fast enough because I had to know what happened. I was almost late for work when I didn't want to stop reading and I am never late for work!
Sara and her mother live a nightmare life with an abusive father whose abuse escalates after sara's brother Matt kills himself, although her father pretends Matt isn't dead and they have to all play along and have all the right answers or risk his rage.
After Sara's mom disappears, all of her fathers targets are no longer there and she becomes his next victim. Although I didn't really want her mom to be dead, I was really hoping that that would be the only reason Sara would be left with her father. They made a plan to escape, but on that day something went wrong and her mom seemed to disappear. Was she dead or alive somewhere? If she isn't dead, how could she leave Sara with her rather knowing how is?
After a while she fills her friend Zach into what is going on and there's a little Romance with a rebellious Alex who has things of his own going. She tries to protect him by letting him go but needs him.
Would have made this a 4 1/2. Great book.
Profile Image for Zuleeza.
404 reviews259 followers
July 15, 2012
This review is also available on my blog, Qwerty

I don't always read realistic fictions but when I do, I..


Damn ninjas cutting onions!

So...it took me a full month before I finally posted a full review. The thought occurred everyday within that one month. I had been thinking, was it laziness? Was it lack of mood?


I simply didn't want to go back there again, among those trees in the cover.

This is why I rarely read realistic fictions or watching documentary about abuse, poverty and such. I hate thinking, 'This shit happens, alright? More than I know. Everyday'. Oh well, I need to stop being a coward, am I?

This book is told from a sixteen years old girl POV. The voice sounded like how I would imagine a sixteen years old girl feels like. Very impressive writing.

While the book dealt with a heavy subject which is abuse, the romance is still incorporated but I didn't like it that much because everything between Sara and the boy who has crush on her happened too fast (It's a short book anyway and well, the romance is not the subject matter of the book a-ny-way).

I'm still not sure what to make of the idea that Sara has to write an assay for every English class based on different one word each time. I mean, for sixteen years old students, that method of teaching seems...fitting only for seven years old students?

Everything else about this book was mesmerizing, so I hope more people will read this someday.
Profile Image for Jane.
235 reviews67 followers
July 3, 2015
I don't know what to feel about this book. Some parts completely befuddled me. Like, your dad has been abusing your mom and yourself for so long, and if you can take it into your own hands and plan one of those dramatic escapes which don't work half the time, I'm pretty sure you can call up a lawyer five states away using a less amount of time. Sure, the dad knows all the policemen in town, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world thinks your dad is the good guy. Taping down dinner conversations and also showing the bruises is pretty good evidence after all.

Now, I want to get this clear, I DO NOT THINK THAT THOSE WOMEN WHO GET ABUSED ARE STUPID FOR NOT DOING ANYTHING. BOLD AND UNDERLINED. In fact, my heart goes out to those people who were abused. You must have suffered so much. What I'm saying is that if the Mom spent such a long time planning out exactly what to pack, where to meet, when to meet etc., the thought of calling up someone, like the ultimate authorities, to help them should have crossed her mind.

And then there's Alex. He seemed like such a convenient love interest, it was almost unnecessary, until the last part, that is. It's like, oh look, everyone else is making out, since I'm a straight guy, and you're a straight girl, let's make out too. To be honest, it would have made more sense if a gutsy old granny next door came along to throttle the daylights out of the dad.

I get that some parts of the book were intense, but I just could not wrap my head around this fact that they simply FORGOT that they could get help. If you can order three airplane tickets, you can call up a lawyer five states away. This book is just so illogical, I can't even-

Whatever. Another one of those books which I regret reading.

Profile Image for McCaid Paul.
Author 7 books48 followers
October 21, 2018
3 Stars
I'm going to go right down the middle with a 3-star rating for this one. This book was good, but had it's flaws.
What She Left Behind was exactly like it's unsettling cover: creepy, dark, and mysterious. It drew me in from the start and kept me flipping the pages.
I chose to ignore the huge flaw peeking beneath the surface for the longest time: that this book was a mystery in disguise.
Maybe I missed something. Maybe this wasn't a mystery book at all, even though the synopsis clearly hints at it.
The climax and the resolution almost seemed too predictable to even be true. What happened to that exciting and twisty ending I was expecting?
All in all, this was a decent read up to the ending. I really don't know what happened. Was the author taking an easy way out?
Do read the book if you want a dark, suspenseful thriller, but don't be fooled by the "mystery" the book tries to offer.
Profile Image for Hannah.
499 reviews
May 15, 2012
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.

Reviewed at http://www.paperbacktreasures.blogspo...
Profile Image for ILoveBooks.
977 reviews10 followers
March 4, 2012
Despite flashbacks to better times in Sara’s family, it is impossible to feel any sympathy toward her abusive father. Beatings inflicted on her mother have gone on for years. Sara’s brother chooses suicide over the emotional and physical abuse he endures. Sara herself is not physically harmed, but the strain of living with her super-critical, controlling father anymore is impossible. Her mom makes plans for the two of them to disappear, but then disappears herself. Terrified that something has happened to her mom, Sara doesn’t believe her father’s story of a “business trip”. Sara works on the mystery of finding out what has happened to her mom while balancing her dad’s craziness, school, a new boyfriend, and an old friend who is a good and constant reminder of her brother.

Sara’s sleuthing brought me into the story. It’s interesting to see the steps she takes to track her mother’s plans. The author does a great job of creating a squeamish, dark sense of fear whenever Sara’s father is in the scene…or even if she just thinks about him. I felt like holding my breath. It was almost painful to read about his temper. The dialogue between Sara and Alex lightens up this dark story. Because Sara is so isolated, reading about the loyalty and help she gets from Alex and Zach lessens the horror of her situation. The final battle shows Sara’s strengths, but also highlights how much she loves her dad.

Three and a half Stars
113 reviews
April 7, 2015
Dry Toast with boring sauce. Maybe I'm too old for YA fiction. Let me save you the trouble - her brother killed himself, her dad is abusive and kidnapped her mother, then chick and friend. Chick shoots her dad to save everyone, her and her mother live happily ever after. Also, for no reason, the star of the football team falls in love with her and saves the day a few times.

Chick is supposed to be 16, but never tells ANYONE that her dad is abusive and her mom has been missing for a week. Sure. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief several times over.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jamie❤Books.
58 reviews
December 3, 2018
☆☆☆☆ 4.5 Come For Me Stars ☆☆☆☆

Whoa, this book was really good. Family riddled with grief and abuse....parts of this storyline I was not expecting and I loved it!!!
Profile Image for Kimberly Sabatini.
Author 1 book381 followers
December 5, 2011
If you like Elizabeth Scott, I think you'll absolutely adore Tracy Bilen. WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND is one of those stories that is morbidly beautiful. It is the harsh reality of a less than ideal life, threaded with moments of love and hope. I couldn't pull my eyes away from what was unfolding on the pages. I immediately connected with Sara and adored the healthy relationships in her life. I read this story with a rapid pulse and sweaty palms--praying that the last page would be just as good as the build-up. I wasn't disappointed.
426 reviews2 followers
April 12, 2015
3.5 stars. mistakenly read this one. young adult. story pulls you in.
Profile Image for Ann.
269 reviews
April 23, 2019
I felt so much of this was realistically portrayed. I felt so much of it was not. I don't like books that mix very serious subject matter with artificial cheesy stuff. Teens need to hear about realistic ways to get out of abusive situations not just wait for the football hero to come to the rescue in a completely unbelievable way.
Profile Image for Tammy.
143 reviews1 follower
December 28, 2020
I couldn't put the book down. A small insight as to what living in an abusive home may be like. Such tortured feelings a hold must have.
Profile Image for Britta.
322 reviews54 followers
May 14, 2012
This book was terrifying. What She Left Behind takes place in a family with a very abusive father, which is an important subject matter that is not dealt with often in YA literature. I was physically cringing at some of the scenes and descriptions. This is one of those books like Thirteen Reasons Why or Want to Go Private? where one doesn't want to say "I love this book" but something more along the lines of "it needs to be read".

Sara's family is still trying to recover from the tragedy of when her older brother committed suicide, but her father's reluctance to believe he is truly gone, coupled with his tendency to release his emotions on her mother makes it impossible to move on from sadness and fear they feel. The day that Sara and her mother are supposed to leave for good, her mother disappears. Finding out what actually happened to her puts Sara and her friends in extreme danger. Hopefully it is worth it.

When I hear horror stories such as this one, I always think (as bad as this is) "Why would she marry him in the first place?" It was hard for me to see that people can change drastically for the worst in response to some event. The person Sara's mother married, the person who raised Sara, is not the same one she is seeing now. I appreciated how much the author emphasized this, that he wasn't always that way. It wasn't in a way to make the reader, or Sara, feel bad for him, but almost in a way to explain.

Also, I liked how the novel went into detail with not just the physical abuse, but the mental and emotional abuse as well. Sara is frequently forced to pretend like her dead brother, the brother she loved deeply, is still alive. She can't move on. In addition, her and her mother live in constant fear. There are massive retaliations for the littlest things; starting chores too late, leaving water in the shower, not washing a cup and leaving it to dry in the dishwasher. Even when Sara is not getting physically abused, she is in a constant state of unease.

I only have two real complaints. Firstly, the romance in the story seems out of place and odd overall. Not just because of the subject matter, but because how they are portrayed. The school "hot guy/bad boy" wouldn't chance so much for the "good girl" in like two seconds, no one really "links pinkies" and they confess love for each other after just a few days (and after she treats him like crap). My only other complaint is that the book ends rather abruptly. I wish I could see a little bit of the emotional effects of what came next.

However, those are no reasons to skip over this one. It really did help me understand how someone could find themselves in such a relationship, and hopefully it will help you too.
Profile Image for Soumi.
Author 1 book379 followers
July 27, 2012
What She Left Behind is one of the most terrific realistic fictions that blew me up. The book is a mirror to reality that reflects the daily drama of domestic violence. Sara and her mom, wants to escape from Sara’s abusive father, so they made a plan of running away. When her mom didn’t show up according to the plan as expected, Sara was terrified. Her father told her, her mom left town for some business purpose Sara knew her father has something to do with her mother’s disappearance. Sara was scared with the growing madness and violence in her father but she must find out what happened to her mother before it’s too late for both of them.

The story has a dark sense and the author was successful in creating that fear in readers’ mind. What She Left behind follows Sara’s fear, and her battle against her own fear. I felt completely sympathized with Sara, and the situations she dealt with, mental illness of her father, death of her brother and disappearance of her mother. What She Left Behind is entirely focused on parental abuse but I like how the author brought out such sensitive topic without any violence and I appreciate that. Still recovering from the shock of her brother Matt’s death, Sara The book caught Sara on edge of terror, as well as the readers. She and her mother was forced to pretend as if Matt is alive, they lived their live in fear. Sara’s father was not always like this vile, but with growing mental illness, he became controlling and over possessive that turns him into someone one eighty degree opposite to the person he used to be.
The book also feature the love interest Alex, who was like an air to breathe in, Sara got help from both Alex and Zach, her best friend, and also unexpectedly there is no love triangle or insta-love, thank god! Sara was a brave girl indeed, torn between love for her father and rest of the family, she ultimately chose the right, and the climax show’s her strength of overcoming her fear and move on.When her plan of escaping fall apart, she initially freaked out inside but in the end she remained clam and intact.

When I started the book, I couldn’t put it down; I was completely engrossed by the story facing brutal side of reality. I rarely read realistic fiction with issues, but I guaranty What She Left Behind is of the best of its kind.
Profile Image for Ann.
282 reviews6 followers
December 27, 2016
I don't know what took me so long to get around to this book. I knew about it shortly after it was published. It's a suspenseful mystery that keeps the reader completely engaged. I read it while I was reading Lisa Cron's STORY GENIUS, and this book provided excellent examples for the lessons I learned from Lisa.
Profile Image for Olivia.
319 reviews4 followers
August 16, 2012
I really liked this! I wasn't too sure what this book was about, since I hadn't heard much about it so far. I wanted to read this since the first time I saw it. The cover was so creepy and the summary made it sound so intense. I can say that this book didn't disappoint me at all!

What She Left Behind tells the story of Sara and her relationship with her abusive father. One day her mother tell Sara that they are leaving and that she will pick her up during her lunch break at school. But when her mother doesn't show up, Sara starts to wonder what actually happened to her mother. Her father then begins to become abusive towards Sara as she tries to figure out what happened to her mother and why she disappeared.

This is a very quick read. I just couldn't put it down. It was so easy to get into the story and feel for Sara with all the things she had to deal with. There is one element to the story that really made it more sad and that was her brother. He committed suicide a couple months ago before the story starts and Sara often has these flashbacks with him and talks about him a lot.

There is also some romance in this story which I wasn't expecting. However, I really liked it. Alex was sweet and charming. There were a lot of funny scenes that take place with him in it. The last sixty pages are so intense and so scary that I was freaking out and worried about what would happen to Sara and her mom.

Overall, this is a great debut for 2012. Tracy Bilen has a good writing style that doesn't take long to like and follow the characters. I can't wait to see what she will come up with in the future!
Profile Image for Emilie.
76 reviews
June 13, 2012
What She Left Behind is the story of the 16 year old Sara's tragic life, and how she must go on after her mom's dissapeared - apparently she's on businesstrip. But Sara knows better, because they had plans on leaving her violent father the exact same day her mom dissapeared. Left with a dad turning more and more violent, trying to pretend everything is fine, Sara starts digging for clues.

What She Left Behind had it all; suspense, a heroine you can actually like, an exciting story that will keep you turning the pages - it even has romance.
I fell in love with Sara right at page 1. She has lots of flaws, yet she is aware of them and tries to work on them (keyword being tried though, through the most of the story). What I really loved was that Bilen shows this broken family and in small pieces we get to know the whole story behind how it could have gone so wrong. Though I want to give it 5 stars, I just can't. Maybe it has something to do with I don't think everything got cleared up at the end and it left too many threads. Nontheless I was in love from the start and couldn't stop reading this fantastic novel.
Profile Image for Chelsea Groves.
215 reviews20 followers
March 9, 2014
What She Left Behind tells the story of Sara and her relationship with her abusive father. One day her mother tell Sara that they are leaving and that she will pick her up during her lunch break at school. But when her mother doesn't show up, Sara starts to wonder what actually happened to her mother. Her father then begins to become abusive towards Sara as she tries to figure out what happened to her mother and why she disappeared.

This is a very quick read. I just couldn't put it down. It was so easy to get into the story and feel for Sara with all the things she had to deal with. There is one element to the story that really made it more sad and that was her brother. He committed suicide a couple months ago before the story starts and Sara often has these flashbacks with him and talks about him a lot.

There is also some romance in this story which I wasn't expecting. However, I really liked it. Alex was sweet and charming. There were a lot of funny scenes that take place with him in it. The last sixty pages are so intense and so scary that I was freaking out and worried about what would happen to Sara and her mom.
Profile Image for Katie Fritz.
23 reviews
October 16, 2014
Sara's mom told her she'd come get her at lunch. They were running away from their town, from the death of Sara's brother, from her abusive dad. Thing thing is, Sara's mom never showed up. Now Sara is stuck in her town, trying to figure out when her mother will come and get her, or if she ever will. Her best friend Zach and crush Alex know something's wrong, but not what. Sara's dad seems all too normal, even with his wife not being home. She has to take the brunt of his abuse, playing the quiet sister, not contradicting his thoughts that Matt's alive, all while waiting for her mom that may never come.

This realistic fiction book holds the reader's attention by continuing to surprise you throughout each chapter. Although it is a book with a very serious topic involved, there are many enjoyable parts. If you've read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher or My Book of Life by Angel then you'd like this book.
Profile Image for Nadia Uhlenhaker.
265 reviews14 followers
July 15, 2022
3.75 stars.

I loved this book. It's very rare that I pick up a book about abuse because they tend to make me really depressed, but this book was beautifully executed and ended perfectly.

First off, I loved the writing and the plot. I'm sure this plot has been done a million times before, but this one was new to me and I liked it. The mystery and suspense made me keep reading, but the little breaks in the middle kept me from snapping with fright.

The characters were wonderfully written, and I felt for them all. The father in this book had me shaking in fear for the characters I cared about, and the mystery aspect left my head spinning, trying to figure out what was going on.

That being said, some parts were a little too repetitive, and boring, but overall, this book is a perfect look at a terrible situation.
Profile Image for Kerryn (RatherBeReading).
1,528 reviews91 followers
October 19, 2015
3.5 stars

I enjoyed this book but at the same time I didn't feel 100% connected to the story. I thought the author did a great job of 'demonising' the father. Despite flashbacks to earlier times, I felt no sympathy whatsoever for this man.

I found the romance in this to be a little insta-lovey, however, I did still enjoy reading these scenes. I did also appreciate that Sara's friendship with Zach never went to a romantic place and that this book avoided an unnecessary love triangle trope.

I also did really enjoy the mystery in this story, it wasn't anything overly original but I thought it was handled well and wasn't overly predictable.

People who enjoy contemporary stories with darker themes should definitely look into this one.

Profile Image for sydney.
49 reviews15 followers
December 7, 2015
**4 STARS**

Oh my god. I loved this so much! What She Left Behind was such an incredible mystery/thriller. Reading this reminded me of just how much I love this genre, and now I'm itching to read more similar books. My heart was beating like crazy during my entire time reading this book! Such a fast, exciting read. My only dislike, personally, was that the main relationship in this story seemed to come on way too fast; I enjoy seeing relationships develop more slowly, over time, in books. But other than that, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking for a page-turner!
Profile Image for Cori Nichols.
118 reviews9 followers
June 17, 2016
This book was won in a goodreads.com giveaway.
Being a woman who has survived domestic abuse, I found this book to be wonderful. It shows that no matter who you are, you can have strength and courage. You find out a lot more than you bargained for. I am going to keep an eye on this author. To read more of my review go to https://journeyingwithceltic.wordpres...

Thank you
Profile Image for Sharon.
194 reviews7 followers
August 12, 2019
Couldn’t put this book down. From the beginning it just draws you in and keeps you hooked. I felt so heartbroken for what Sara, Matt, and their mother had to put up with from such an abusive father. I’m glad she had Zach and Alex to help through this ordeal. I wasn’t expecting it to be so dark of a book. The ending had just the right amount of drama and twists. Definitely worth the read.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Laura.
Author 2 books203 followers
November 17, 2011
What a gripping book! While it was at times very difficult to read because of the very real abuse this book deals with, Bilen did an awesome job of balancing the very dark points with lighter ones. It kept me riveted from start to finish. Very, very good!
Profile Image for Chris.
192 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2016
This was a fast paced story told through the eyes of a teenager. However I started looking to see if it was noted anywhere as being written FOR a teenager. Fortunately it was short. I did want to see how it ended and it was very easy to read.
42 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2016
Suspenseful read

This novel is well crafted. The story is suspenseful seen through a young high school girl's eyes. A horrid tale of abuse with the wonderful feelings of first love and the pain of unbearable loss.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 324 reviews

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