DNF Review: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

Posted August 24, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 4 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

DNF Review: The Leaving by Tara AltebrandoThe Leaving by Tara Altebrando
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on June 7th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Format: ARC, E-book
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.
Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.
Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story.

Warning: this is a DNF (Did Not Finish) review for a book I gave up on recently. I know this style of review is controversial in the blogging community for time to time, but I think it’s important for me to share why I give up on certain books. The books I walk away from are just as much a part of my reading journey as the books I finish and love.

The Leaving had such a fascinating premise! Of all the books I had stockpiled in my house for summer reading, this was the very first one I picked up. I’ve been in a thriller mood lately and this seemed right up my alley. However, I DNFed the novel at the 25% mark because I just was not enjoying my reading experience. It wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t excited to continue reading. I’ve been struggling through reading slumps lately and I’m trying to be better at identifying books that I’m reading out of obligation rather than personal enjoyment. Unfortunately, The Leaving turned out to be a classic example of this pattern. A younger version of me would have continue through the book and given in a mediocre rating, but the older and busier version of me just doesn’t have time for books that drag.


What was it about the story that fell flat for me? I think first and foremost that there were too many characters. This is a growing trend in YA, these novels with three/four/five narrators, and I just don’t think it’s ever done well. Readers spend the first half of the book just trying to keep the damn characters straight and everything gets lost in way too much exposition (see my reviews for We All Looked Up and This is Where it Ends). One character in particular, Scarlett, had these faux-poetic thoughts that would make shapes across the pages, so I found her passages to be particularly annoying and heavy handed. The story was incredibly sloooooow and I just never felt like things picked up and moved along. I don’t care if an ending is incredible or I know there will be some great twist…if I have to slog through 350 pages of contrived tension to get there…no thanks.

I did have a vested interest in the ending, so I did skip to the final thirty pages to read what happens (no judgies!) and was not terribly impressed with the ending of the novel, either. Sure, I can appreciate the playfulness with genre (is this a thriller? paranormal? alien? horror? contemporary?) but the end was generally unsatisfying and felt more like a fun episode of a TV show than something worth dedicating 8 hours of my life to. So there’s that.


For all the reasons stated above (slow pacing, too much exposition, uninteresting characters, unsatisfying ending) I walked away from this book and picked up something else that would hold my attention better. I landed on Jodi Picoult’s new novel Small Great Things and have been unable to put it down. So I’m pretty sure The Leaving isn’t a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” but more of “I do not recommend this book.”


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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4 responses to “DNF Review: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

  1. Lex

    I am also trying to get better at determining books that just do not interest me and books that unluckily fall into my hands during a reading slump. Good for you for starting to figure that out though, and I am glad you found a book that is working well for you now!

  2. I recently read this book and didn’t really love it, but did persevere. Now, it just keeps coming back to me, and hence I recommended it to one of my students who read it and absolutely loved it! It’s a tricky one, because I think if I re-read it, I’d have the same issues as you, yet it just keeps playing in my mind!

  3. I was so excited for this book (I LOVE thrillers, and it seems so hard to come by good ones in the YA genre!) but unfortunately most of the reviews I’ve read have been in a similar vein as yours. This book seems to suffer from genre-confusion, and it just frustrates me to no end that so many thrillers in the YA genre fall so flat.

  4. I love your raw and brutal honesty. Many reviewers have the habit of sugar coating everything. This book caught my attention but something told me it wouldn’t be worth my time. Now I can stop with the what ifs, thank you.

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