What She Left Behind
You can’t run from the truth
“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. 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.
“In her debut young adult novel, Bilen takes us into the world of family secrets from a teen’s point of view. The ending includes a twist that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and yet, once the book is closed, Sara’s story will remain with readers. This is truly a remarkable story of resilience with broad appeal for teens.”
– VOYA, April 2012
“Quickly paced and with a dramatic conclusion.”
— SLJ, June 2012
“Bilen reveals a chilling picture of domestic violence. Sharp prose and an increasingly tense plot make this debut a page-turner.”
— Publishers Weekly (online)
Discussion Questions for What She Left Behind by Tracy Bilen
1. Why doesn’t Sara tell anyone except Zach her suspicions about her mom? Is there anyone else she could have or should have told? Would you have told someone else, if you were in her situation? Why or why not?
2. Alex starts showing an interest in Sara right around when her mom goes missing: in what ways is her growing relationship with him good for her during this time, and how is it bad? Why didn’t Sara tell Alex about her mom?
3. For English class Sara writes a lot about her family: what do you learn about them and about her from these essays?
4. Sara and her mom watch a TV soap opera, Winds of Change: how is the main character, Julia, like Sara’s mother?
5. What has made Sara’s dad so violent and crazy? What was he like back when the family lived in Philadelphia?
6. Early on Sara says she is mad at her brother Matt for killing himself: why do you think she is mad at him? Do you think that is a fair response for her to have?
7. At one point, after Sara’s mom has been missing for many days, Sara thinks “I want to go home” even though she’s actually in her house: why doesn’t it feel like home to her now? What does home mean to you?
8. Were you surprised by the ending? Did anything in the story lead you to expect this outcome?
9. In the end, Sara says she still loves her dad: how can this be? If you learned a parent or loved one did something criminal, do you think you would still love him or her?
10. Sara keeps the secret, from her friends, teachers, and other family members, that her mom is missing and that her dad might have killed her mom; what other characters have secrets that their friends and family don’t know?
11. Do you think Sara faces her problems courageously? What are examples from the story that help you answer this? Explain, from your answer, what you think courage is.
Questions courtesy of Jean Kowaleski. Permission to photocopy questions is granted.
Additional classroom ideas for What She Left Behind
- Discussion questions (on website) for book groups or classes
- Essay contest (elaborate on discussion question or personal essay)
- Write an alternate ending or Matt’s story or from Dad’s viewpoint
- Free writing (Sara does this in the novel)
Sara’s actual journal topics: A person I admire, Describe a family vacation, Shopping,Camping.
Related journal topics
Secrets, in what ways do you act and/or feel different at home than at school, wanting to go home when you’re already there, my Petrified Forest moments, “my stupid, stupid heart will never stop loving you”, if only I hadn’t…, the Worst Case Scenario survival handbook, No one’s trying to hack off my arm, but….
- Dramatic reading for forensics competition or classroom dramatic reading
- “The Winds of Change”: change to dialogue, develop scenes
- Design an alternate cover for the book and explain your choice
- Compare the American and German covers: which do you prefer and why? What different aspects of the book are highlighted by each cover? The American cover is a much more literal interpretation of the story; explain what you think the cracked earth and the girl’s posture in the German cover represent. (The German cover can be found at amazon.de. The title is: Wie der Vater so der Tod.)
- Make a playlist of songs for this book and explain why you chose each one
- Create your own book trailer