Pull Up A Beach Chair To Figure Out What Happened to Goodbye
By HonestAndTruly on June 28, 2011
The best thing I can say about What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen is that when I turned the last page, I was waiting for more. That isn't to say that the book hadn't finished its story. Rather, the characters and the overall life behind the story were so compelling to me that I wanted more. This was one of those books that I picked up and kept turning the pages even when it’s possible I should have been doing something else.
To be honest, I was surprised that I liked What Happened to Goodbye as much as I did. The main character in the book is Mclean, is a teenager dealing with the very public divorce of her parents and moving to yet another city as she -- voluntarily -- follows her father to his next job. At my age, I don’t generally feel like I can relate to teenagers the way they’re written in the majority of books. I can’t relate to their problems or the way they think. In What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean is surprisingly mature for a high school student, not surprising given the growing up she’s had to do in the past two years, and she is eminently likeable, being both strong and vulnerable.
In the book, Mclean has had the challenge of moving from her hometown in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. This isn’t your ordinary divorce where Mom and Dad go their separate ways for a myriad of reasons. No, Mclean and her dad are rabid college basketball fans of the local university. Mom ends up having an affair with the coach and marrying him -- the latter after becoming pregnant with twins. Her parents’ business also folds, and her dad takes a new job that means moving from town to town as he revamps restaurants. She goes with him, as her relationship with her mother is beyond rocky.
In each of her first three locations, Mclean has tried out new personalities in her search to fit in and be comfortable with herself. As she moves to her fourth location, she is prepared to do the same again and waits for the personality to come to her. Of course, nothing happens as she plans, which becomes the crux of the book as Mclean discovers much about herself in a town she never thought would feel like home.
This could easily have been a very formulaic book. Girl moves to new town. Girl meets boy, and they fall in love. Dad works in new restaurant, falls in love with the place and buys it, making this his new home -- discovering his own love interest along the way. Happily, that isn’t how it goes. The book is far more realistic to the way life really works, and the humor and pain along the way make for a truly compelling read.
One thing I really appreciated is that the characters beyond just Mclean and her father are truly fleshed out. You get a feel for what her friends in school are really like. You get to know the new step-dad, and he’s a person rather than a caricature. You meet the staff in the restaurant, who are more than simply waitresses and line cooks. With each person having a distinctive personality, they don’t run together, and they help move the story along its winding path, just as it should be.
That said, it is a young adult novel. It doesn’t contain anything I would object to the wee ones reading as they grow into their teen years. It isn’t sassy in a negative way, edgy or inappropriate just for the sake of being so. With all the entertainment out there today “for” children that sets a bad example, I appreciate that this book did not. Were Mclean my daughter, I’d be pretty proud of her.
While What Happened to Goodbye isn’t a series, it could easily be turned into one. I don’t need to wait for that to happen, however. Sarah Dessen has written a nine other books that will keep me busy this summer. Searching out more books by an author is -- in my opinion -- one of the highest praises I can give.
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