Say Hello To What Happened To Goodbye

BlogHer Review

It's been many years since I last picked up a young adult novel, but I'm glad that I had the chance to read this one. In What Happened to Goodbye, author Sarah Dessen has reminded me why I find this genre of literature so interesting.

Mclean and her family had been riding a rough roller-coaster of emotions of the past few years. Her parents divorced after a publicized scandal and affair, and three years later, Mclean is still grieving the loss of what she considered a happy childhood:

"It was like loving a movie, knowing every frame, and then suddenly finding yourself right inside of it. But it's not a romance or a comedy anymore, just your worst freaking nightmare."

Mclean chose to live with her father after the divorce, and since her father's job as a restaurant consultant meant frequent moves, she became a relocation specialist. After three years, moving into rental homes, changing schools, organizing boxes and packing U-Hauls became routine tasks. As they moved from town to town and Mclean unpacked their belongings in a different city, she also developed another skill: she learned to unpack a whole new identity for herself as easily as she stacked their dishes into a new kitchen cabinet. Each identity had a new name as well as a brand spankin' new persona: Mclean became Eliza, then Lizbet, then Beth:

"...gently but firmly correcting my homeroom teacher on my first day of school......he glanced down at his roll sheet, then crossed out what was there and wrote this in. It was so easy. Just like that, in the hurried moments between announcements, I wrapped up and put away sixteen years of my life and was born again, all before first period even began."

The book begins as Mclean and her father move into yet another new location and for inexplicable reasons she finds it difficult to recreate herself yet again. Her new friends are introduced to the real Mclean, whoever Mclean is.... She had been adopting imaginary identities for so long that her authentic self was a mystery, even to herself.

We are taken on a wonderful 402 page journey as this amazing teenager comes to grips with the choices that her parents have made, forges her first real friendships in three years, and finally reacquaints herself with the person that she is.

I enjoyed taking this journey with Mclean very much, but I do take issue with one categorization of this book - the back dust cover of What Happened To Goodbye says, "Read Sarah Dessen and fall in love!" Which, of course, suggests that this story is a teenage romance novel. Ah, but I must disagree.

This story is much larger and more complex than the dust cover quote implies. Yes, Mclean also learns about relationships along the way, but her much more important task is to discover the person that has emerged from this very difficult family upheaval, and in doing so, discover the new but authentic world that awaits her.

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