Mclean Sweet: Not Perfect, But Perfectly Written
I don't mean that in a snarky way, either. She is not a stereotypical teenager who is fluent in only sarcasm and textspeak. She is not your standard "Mary Sue" character who does no wrong, who is the prettiest and most popular girl in school, the captain of the cheering squad and the debate team, with a dozen boyfriends aching to take her to the prom. She isn't particularly impetuous or defiant or inexplicably attracted to bad boys or felons or vampires or werewolves. She doesn't need to save civilization as we know it or bring honor to her family.
She is just a girl trying to figure out her place in the small slice of the world she knows, thinking and speaking and acting the way a teenager actually thinks and speaks and acts, and because of this, she is one of the most perfect teenagers -- one of the most perfect female characters anywhere, really -- that I have ever read.
Mclean's parents are divorced, and she spends most her time traveling with her father from town to town when he gets reassigned in his job. She has been in many different schools in many different towns, and every time she moves, she "pretends" to be someone else -- but not really. She picks a different part of her personality to emphasize as she explores who she is. Who among us hasn't done that, or really wanted to? Who hasn't even thought about waking up one morning and trying out a different personality, just to see what it would be like?
But while Mclean has had the opportunity to try on different personae, to see how they fit, she also realizes how important it is to set up roots, to find yourself, to make your own way. And she doesn't learn these lessons through some horrible tragedy or through some life-altering illness, but by actually trying to be herself. Her stakes are different from most teenagers', in that she can just move again with her father if things don't work out, and most of us don't get that opportunity, but at the same time, her stakes are exactly the same as everyone else's: figure out how to be who you are, or don't, and deal with the consequences.
It is maybe the greatest praise that I can give Sarah Dessen, the author, to say that I devoured this book. I didn't read this book so quickly because it is YA; I read it quickly because I literally did not want to put it down. I read a lot, and I don't feel that way often. I identified very strongly with situations that the characters found themselves in -- even if I myself did not have overbearing parents who took away my privileges whenever I did something with which they disagreed, I knew plenty of people in high school who did. I feel like I knew every character in this book, in one way or another.
Okay, so maybe Mclean Sweet isn't perfect -- but she's perfectly written, perfectly fleshed-out, perfectly whole, and that made What Happened to Goodbye pretty much perfect.