Sarah Dessen Relates to Teenagers on a Whole New Level

BlogHer Review

While I'm technically not a young adult anymore (does "at heart" count?), I'd have to have been hiding under a rock not to hear about author Sarah Dessen, her books and her uncanny ability to channel teenagers in her absorbing novels. When the opportunity arose to read one of her books, I was excited to take part. I wanted, simply put, to see what the fuss was about.

What Happened to Goodbye is a story of a high school senior, Mclean Sweet, whose life is constantly in flux. For the last two years, she's been traveling to new towns with her restaurant guru father Gus, creating new identities for herself wherever she goes and leaving the new friends she makes behind without much of a goodbye. Mclean still hasn't forgiven her mother for her parents' divorce and their once close relationship is on it's last leg. Her experiences with her parents' split has colored nearly every aspect of her life, especially her ability to commit to relationships with other people and places.

I will be honest right off the bat. When other reviewers talk about how much they related to this story, I feel like I'm missing something. And I am, I suppose. My parents never were divorced, I never had relationships with either of them the way Mclean does with hers. Her motivations and mine at the same age are entirely different. That said, I can still appreciate the way in which Sarah Dessen has masterfully crafted her characters.  These are not your standard YA novel 2-D teenage characters.  These characters have reactions and feelings and motivations that remarkably spot-on.  I truly enjoyed the side characters in this story: super-smart Dave with his dorky but sweet ways, Deb with her clever and shy and amazingly experienced circle of knowledge, Riley with her loyalty, Heather with her ditziness, Opal with her passion and good nature. 

I found myself at times frustrated with Mclean because her reactions seemed to so different than mine would have been when I was a senior in high school.  When she stays silent, I would have spoken up.  When she backs off from making connections with other people, I would have gone forward.  I was MOST frustrated, however with Mclean's mother.  She was a very selfish character and Mclean had her outpaced at times in the maturity department.  More than once I questioned not only why Gus (Mclean's father) would have wanted to be married to her, but why Mclean's stepfather, Peter, would want to be married to her as well! 

But aren't maddening characters just the icing on the cake?  Take a great story and add some frustration to it and you've got yourself a page-turner!  Which is exactly what this was.  It wasn't tied up at the end with a neat little bow like you would expect teenage-lit to be, but instead offered a far more realistic (but still happy!) conclusion.  I had to respect that.

If you're looking for a pleasant summer read and enjoy fully fleshed out characters, do give What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen a try. 

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