What Happened to Goodbye: Change Your Name, Change Yourself?

BlogHer Review
If you change your clothes, your make-up, your name, who do you see when you look in the mirror? Sarah Dessen's What Happened to Goodbye explores Mclean Sweet’s journey back to herself as she discovers changing what lies beneath the reflection in the mirror is harder than it seems.

What Happened to Goodbye is a young adult novel, but I found it to have great crossover appeal. Of course, I enjoy well-written young adult novels, possibly because of my former life as a middle school teacher. Dessen’s novel, though centered on the lives of her teenage characters, deal with ideas of betrayal, identity, and trust that readers of all ages are certain to find relatable and authentic.

Mclean Sweet’s father has a job that means changing locations at a moment’s notice. Her middle name, Elizabeth, gives her countless options for changing her identity each time they land in a new rental home in a new town. Beth, Eliza, Lizbet all look a little different and act a little different and are temporary ways for Mclean to escape the myriad of emotions caused by her parents’ divorce.

Even as adult, the idea of a clean slate, of starting over, is slightly alluring, and I imagine that many teenagers would find it absolutely enticing. Dessen realistically shows that Mclean has a harder time escaping her past than she does changing her identity.

When she comes to Lakeview, Mclean plans on becoming Liz Sweet, but inadvertently ends up as just Mclean, her true identity seeping through in her interactions with the people she meets in her new school. As she tentatively, almost against her will, begins to make new connections, it becomes necessary for her to reconnect with her mom, with whom she has been purposely estranged since her parents’ divorce.

Dessen’s young adults are so well written, particularly Mclean’s friend Deb, who has her own layers of identity slowly peeled back from the façade she has carefully constructed. I found myself cheering for Deb to find her place in her own skin just as much as I did for Mclean. The romantic relationship between Mclean and Dave, which begins as a simple friendship with a new neighbor, was secondary for me as Mclean sheds her alternate personas and settles into being Mclean Sweet.

What Happened to Goodbye is an excellent choice for a summer novel. Teenagers on summer vacation and adults looking for a lighter read will find Mclean Sweet to be a flawed, but immensely honest and likable character, someone you really hope finds a happy ending.

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