All We Left Behindby Ingrid Sundberg
When Marion Taylor, the shy bookworm, meets sexy soccer captain Kurt Medford at a party, what seems like a sure thing quickly turns into a total mess. One moment they’re alone in the middle of a lake, igniting sparks of/i>
Two teenagers battling their inner demons fall in love for the first time in this “heartfelt and gritty debut” (Booklist).
When Marion Taylor, the shy bookworm, meets sexy soccer captain Kurt Medford at a party, what seems like a sure thing quickly turns into a total mess. One moment they’re alone in the middle of a lake, igniting sparks of electricity. The next, they’re on dry land, pretending they’ve never met. But rather than the end, that night is the beginning of something real, terrifying, and completely unforgettable for them both.
As Marion and Kurt struggle to build a relationship from the fractured pieces of their pasts, every kiss they share uncovers memories both would rather keep buried. Marion desperately wants to trust Kurt and share the one secret she’s never told anyone—but some truths aren’t meant to be spoken out loud. Kurt is also still haunted by his mother’s death, by the people he hurt, and by the mistakes he can never take back.
Explosive together and hollow apart, Marion and Kurt seem totally wrong for each other—but could they turn out to be more right than they ever thought possible?
reputation with the girls as a “player.” Marion is a bit of a wallflower and is unable to tell anyone about something that happened to her years before. Both cope with their dysfunctional families in different ways: Kurt’s sister is a meth addict, and he uses sex to fill the void he feels over his alcoholic mother’s death, while Marion is disconnected from even those closest to her. Throughout, lyrical water
images evoke Kurt and Marion’s rocky relationship: “Everything between Kurt and me has been ocean—fast & vulnerable and full of drowning currents.” The language used is sometimes raw, and the characters masturbate and have sex, but this isn’t explicitly described. The depiction of drug use is a bit graphic and disturbing, lending authenticity to an honest, frank, and appealing
Gr 10 Up—Marion Taylor and Kurt Medford couldn't be more different. Marion is introverted and studious, while Kurt is the playboy captain of the soccer team. Neither of them would ever have noticed the other until their paths cross unexpectedly at a party. During this brief tryst, the energy and connection between them is palpable but they both know it cannot last. Yet in the days and weeks following their meeting, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another. Both Marion and Kurt harbor dark secrets that keep them from becoming close to anyone. Marion cannot stand to be touched and fears intimacy, while Kurt buries his pain through physical means. Before long they cannot deny their feelings, and they begin a passionate and at times confusing relationship. Soon the layers of their secrets begin to peel away, forcing them to face the demons they have both fled from. This novel is both haunting and poetic in its depiction of young love and human trauma. The chapters alternate between Marion's and Kurt's points of view, giving readers a chance to experience both sides of the story. Their experiences are woven together to create an emotional and at times raw story of pain, love, and acceptance. Sundberg does not shy away from darker topics such as sexual abuse, addiction, and abandonment. Through all the trauma, however, readers will find hope in the growth and love that both Marion and Kurt find in each other. VERDICT A poetic and tumultuous tale of love and loss that will appeal to fans of both realistic fiction and romance.—Annalise Ammer, Henrietta Public Library, NY
Two high school students from seemingly different worlds find that their intense chemistry is not the only thing that draws them together in this debut novel. Though Marion and Kurt are both emotionally withdrawn, they manifest it in different ways: she studiously avoids boys and eschews physical contact, while he engages in frequent meaningless hookups. However when Marion's wild, boundary-pushing friend Lilith throws them together at a party, they can barely keep their hands off each other while they go for a swim in the lake. This touches off a connection between the two that feels at once magnetic and dangerous. The respective agonizing secrets harbored by Marion and Kurt are revealed to readers before the characters share them with each other and establish them both as authentically sympathetic alternating first-person narrators. The dreamy, dialogue-driven text flows easily, and though some may grow impatient with the elusive on-again, off-again nature of their relationship, the pair's sexual tension can't be denied, and its eventual resolution is steamy and honest in its vulnerability. An ongoing metaphor set up early on about drowning serves the narrative well as both Marion and Kurt are pulled under by their emotions and the demons of their pasts. Older teens will be deeply moved by this romantic drama and its pairing of sensuality and grief. (Fiction. 14-18)
Read an Excerpt
All We Left Behind
The sun parts the trees like lips, golden with half shadows and secrets. Dusk arches over the dirt road ahead, and I double-check the Post-it on my dash. It tells me to drive straight for another six miles out of town through this patchwork of New England trees. But the leaves are flamed orange-gold and so thick I can’t imagine there’s a lake, much less a lake house and a party, somewhere behind them.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” I ask Lilith, who bares her teeth in the mirror of my passenger-seat visor. Her red mouth fills the whole frame.
“Of course it is,” Lilith practically snorts, tossing lipstick into her purse and fishing out a silver flask. She opens the cap and gulps back whatever’s inside it, smearing red over the rim. “There is only one way, Marion!” Lilith bellows, rolling down the window and leaning into the wind. “Forward, my friend. Forward, into your future!”
The sun winks ominously through the trees, nearly set. The thin fabric of Lilith’s tank top stretches over her cleavage, and I can’t help but think about all the things Lilith knows. All the guys she’s been with and the secrets her body understands, the same way a firefly knows to glow when night arrives, turning on in the dark.
“Marion, it’s senior year!” Lilith hoots, nudging me as she leans out the window. “We’re going to have the best year ever!” She laughs and her hair whips wildly, catching whispers of sun. And even though the trees angle in dark ahead of us, I can’t help but smile and roll down my window with her. Because Lilith is so free, and so alive, and so radiant, that I know I’d follow her anywhere, for just a hint of that freedom.
* * *
At the end of the road the treetops open up to unveil the lake, and the final winks of gold shine over the mountain. It makes me forget we live near Boston, or that droves of tourists descend upon our small coastal town of Emerson in the summertime. It reminds me that once this land was nothing but virgin forest.
I park near the salt grass and Lilith drums her fingers on the dashboard, nodding to the bonfire by the shore. Two dozen kids from school already surround the flames, drinking and laughing.
“Let the mayhem begin!” Lilith says dramatically, checking her cleavage in the mirror and fluffing her hair like she’s about to go onstage. My stomach grumbles from hunger or nerves, and I pull a McIntosh apple from my purse.
“Appetizer?” I offer, and Lilith looks at me like I’m holding a frog.
“Damn, Mar-i-doodle! You got a fruit stand in there?”
“Maybe,” I shoot back, nodding to her flask. “You got a liquor store in yours?”
“Touché!” She grabs my apple and takes a dramatic bite, then shoves her flask in my hand. “Appetizers it is.” She motions for me to drink.
I take a swig and the liquid is sweet, but then it hits my throat and burns. “Jesus!” I spit the rest out the window. “What is that!?”
“Sorry.” Lilith laughs. “Okay, maybe you do need to eat before you drink.” She hands me back the apple in exchange for her flask. “Finish that, fruit-girl, and remind me to find you some bread.”
Cold air shoots up my skirt as we walk toward the lake, wind kissing my thighs. I grip the apple and tug at the fabric’s hem.
“Be cool,” Lilith says, dropping an arm over my shoulders and playing with the blond hair that flows down my back. “You got this.”
She eyes my hands before throwing back another drink, and I’m not sure what she thinks I’ve got, only she’s already skipping ahead through the reeds and motioning for me to follow. She heads for the bonfire, and from my angle the flames spark around her, wild and snapping.
Always on fire.
I hang by the water’s edge as Lilith skips from one person to the next. She mentioned this party was exclusive, which sounded cool before, but now that we’re here, it really means I don’t know anyone. I don’t even see the drama kids Lilith normally hangs out with. I could be mad at her for not introducing me, but I know better. Lilith bounces from person to person like a manic jumping bean, and I’d rather be a wallflower than get dragged around like a forgotten puppy. She’ll find me when she’s done. She always does.
The heat of the bonfire is surprising. It puffs up my skin like the flesh of a marshmallow. After lingering awhile I discover there’s an invisible line around the fire. A heat line. On one side it’s too hot to stand and on the other side it’s too cold. The flames crackle, whispering secrets to the girls standing close to the blaze with their tan legs and low-cut shirts. They dig their toes into the sand, and the soccer players touch their elbows and waists and hair. I move closer to the fire but the heat feels like Lilith’s breath, hot on my neck.
“What if you give yourself a deadline?” Lilith asked the other night, her brown hair lying against my white comforter in dark waves. “Like Halloween or Thanksgiving?”
“To find a boyfriend?” I shifted uncomfortably beside her.
She laughed. “He doesn’t have to be your boyfriend.”
I stared at the ceiling. I’d painted it sapphire a few years ago, but you could still see the outlines of the glow-in-the-dark stars and unicorn stickers beneath.
“Maybe I want a boyfriend,” I threw back at her, and she rolled onto her elbow to face me.
“You’re misunderstanding. I don’t mean go out and screw the next guy that comes along. I mean . . .” She placed her index finger on my shoulder and started to draw swirls through the cotton of my shirt. She did that when she was thinking, as if the contact helped her to figure out what she meant to say. “It’s not a promise you’re making to me. It’s a promise you’re making to yourself. It’s a promise to your body. Does that make sense?”
“Not really,” I breathed. Lilith knew how to use her hands. She knew what boys wanted. What to do with them.
Her fingers hit my collarbone and goose bumps frilled over me. Cold then hot. Hot, forcing me to stare at the ceiling so she couldn’t see all the things I couldn’t tell her.
“You make the promise to yourself, Marion,” Lilith said, her fingers tracing the hem of my skin. “Listen to your body.”
Lilith dug her toes into the stretch of muscle above my ankle and I could tell she was tired. After ten years of sleepovers, I know the crook of Lilith’s neck. I know the way her elbow bends. Those toes meant she was ready for bed. Or maybe she was just tired of rehashing this conversation.
“So, how does it work?” I asked, spreading my blond hair over the pillow. I needed a map. Wanting to lose your virginity and losing it are two very different things. “If he’s not my boyfriend? What are the rules?”
“There aren’t any rules, Marion.” Lilith rolled onto her side and began to braid my hair. “You trust your instincts. Let him take the lead. Your body knows what to do.”
“But what if I don’t?”
“You will.” Her fingers moved effortlessly, her hands weaving the braid without even looking. “Your body knows things, Marion. Things you can’t even imagine.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Her words were like fog, untouchable and everywhere.
“Don’t think about it,” Lilith encouraged, eyeing my silence. “Just have fun.”
“Easy peasy!” Her voice got high, like maybe that was a lie, and I fixed my gaze outside on the empty sky, imagining it full of fireflies. “Hell, Mar-i-doodle, you’re hot,” Lilith continued. “So, it’s not like it’s going to be hard.”
“Right.” I nodded, wanting to believe her.
“Damn right!” she insisted, before sitting up dramatically and putting on her most obnoxious Catholic-nun voice. “Of course, you should always remember,” she started, wagging her finger in the air. “Your body is a temple. You shouldn’t defile it with one of those dirty, dirty boys. You should cherish it and keep your beautiful flower intact for your wedding day!”
I grabbed a pillow and smacked her in the face. We both doubled over laughing.
“You know, Marion . . . ,” Lilith said quietly, as our laughter subsided and the smell of pine trees drifted in from the open window.
“You can . . .” She shook her head, her voice light and dismissive, and I thought maybe I could hear the paint peeling back to expose those plastic stars. “Like if you’re working up to it and, I dunno, you’re not into it or whatever . . . You know you can say no, right?”
My toes dug into the bedspread, squishy as mud.
“Of course I know that,” I said quickly, shaking my head like she was crazy. “Who doesn’t know that?”
“Sure,” Lilith agreed, but then her eyes flicked to me like she wasn’t sure I meant it. I pushed back the comforter and crawled underneath, ignoring the icy draft at the base of my sheets.
“Good night, Lilith,” I said softly.
“Good night, Marion,” she said, turning off the light, but in the dark I could still hear her voice echoing in my head. Your body knows things, it whispered as I stared up at my ceiling of sapphire-drowned stars. Things you can’t even imagine.
Meet the Author
Ingrid Sundberg holds an MFA in writing for children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. She grew up in Maine, but now lives in sunny California where she misses the colors of autumn. All We Left Behind is her first novel. Find Ingrid online at IngridSundberg.com.
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All We Left Behind explores an achingly gorgeous and complicated teen love story. The story is real. The characters are real. This love story isn't all high school swoon and fairy tales and trust. Rather, it explores the broken bits within each of us—the bits that make us feel unworthy and ugly and scared—and how two teens struggle with how to make those pieces fit into the world. Against another person. Within their own skin.