Pass the Hanky: What Happened to Goodbye is a Surprising Tearjerker
Mclean Sweet is living a teenage girl’s fantasy. Because her father’s job involves frequent moves, she gets a fresh start every few months at a new school. She even renames herself with each move so she can forget about her past and fully re-invent a new persona. On the surface, it seems like a neat lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to leave behind the mistakes, baggage and growing pains that go with being a teenage girl?
The rub is, with each move, Mclean looses bits and pieces of herself, until, eventually, she’s no better than the empty building she finds behind the rental unit she and her father occupy in Lakeview.
As the story unfolds, Mclean can’t help but reveal her true self to her new friends. She’s starting to feel at home and finds that she’s unexpectedly letting her guard down. All the while, Mclean and her mother are on rocky terms, at best. Her father is a work-a-holic who appears to be an okay dad, but has trouble considering his daughter’s needs.
Bubbling under the surface is the trauma of her parents’ divorce. It happened years ago. Mclean thought she was dealing with it by transforming herself into Eliza, Lizbet and Beth. In reality, as long as she was pretending to be someone else, she wasn’t dealing with her issues. Eventually, the tension boils over. Mclean is hit head on with her grief.
As her true self is revealed, so is the true focus of the book. It’s no longer a book about a girl growing up and learning how to fit in despite her unique circumstances, but a book about a child caught in the fallout of divorce and the product of a broken family. Mclean’s pre-divorce identity was wrapped up in her family. Sadly, the adults in her life were so focused on their own problems, they didn’t notice that Mclean’s foundation had crumbled.
As Mclean grappled with finding her new normal, I found my heart breaking for her. I was angry at her parents for wanting to uproot her again. I felt her despair at having to leave her friends and the town that finally became home.
I was glad I had a box of tissues nearby because What Happened to Goodbye is the kind of book you don’t expect to bring on tears. But, it did. Fortunately, Dessen turned the bleak outlook for Mclean into a happy, satisfactory ending so I could put the tissues down before the final pages.