A Life Lesson in What Happened to Goodbye

BlogHer Review

I realize I’m not a “young adult,” but I started reading Sarah Dessen a couple years ago starting with Lock and Key. Dessen’s story telling is what really interested me. I like how her books revolve around family and address the issues many young girls face in their teenage years.

What Happened to Goodbye is Dessen’s latest novel. A story of a teenager, McLean, who moves frequently with her single dad and invents new identities in each city, this book deals with the insecurities McLean hides and resentment she has toward her mother, who had an affair and left her father a few years earlier. In her latest city, she accidentally gives her real name instead of some alteration of her name, leaving her to decide if she’s going to be “herself” here or somebody new. She begins to feel at home in this city, and her identity, and falls for the boy next door, until a surprise threatens to turn it all upside down.

I liked this book, again for Dessen’s story telling, but the greatest insight in my opinion was just a paragraph about halfway through the book. McLean and her neighbor/friend Dave are going to school. When they arrive, they get out of the car. Because it’s winter, the parking lot is slippery:

“Instead of steadying him, however, this had the opposite effect, and then we were both stumbling across the ice, double the weight, double the impact if we fell.

It was the weirdest feeling. As my feet slid beneath me, my heart was lurching, pounding with that scary feeling of having no footing, no control. But then I looked over at Dave. He was laughing, his face flushed as he wavered this way, then that, pulling me along, equally clumsy behind him. Same situation, two totally different reactions.” (238)

This, to me, is one of the greatest lessons in life. The difference between happiness and unhappiness, oftentimes, is attitude. We can choose to be positive, no matter what “bad” things could happen, no matter how unsure we feel. Chalking up life’s trials and challenges as learning experiences to make us stronger and better is a lesson from which all of us, especially young adults, can benefit, and make all the difference in our happiness.

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