Say Hello to Well Written Teen Angst in What Happened to Goodbye
Everyone, at some time or another, dreams of a completely fresh start. Somewhere new, unknown, where you can be anyone and do anything. New personality, new job, new hobbies…even new name. In Sarah Dessen's teen novel What Happened to Goodbye Mclean Sweet gets to live out this little dream, over and over again.
After her parents’ very messy (and very public) divorce, Mclean chooses to live with her father, a former chef and restaurant owner-cum-consultant. With his company EAT INC, Mclean’s dad Gus is transferred to different towns across the United States, to completely turnaround failing restaurants purchased by the firm.
At each new place Mclean decides to start fresh, with an entirely new name and an identity to match. In one town she is Lizbet, drama chick who smokes cigarettes and acts in plays. In another she is Eliza, preppy cheerleading star and all-around popular girl. And in a small beach town she is Beth, student council member and volunteer Good Girl Extraordinaire. When Mclean and Gus move to the town of Lakeview to take over the failing Luna Blu restaurant, Mclean sees this as a just another chance to reinvent herself. However, between the next-door neighbor boy Dave Wade seeming to fall in love with her, new friends who find out and call her by her real name, and her estranged mother badgering her at every turn, Mclean learns that you can run as much as you want, but the past will always catch up with you.
For a teen novel the book is very well-written, and flows continuously in a readable format. It’s fairly unrealistic once you think about how these different personas would work, as well as the actual day-to-day of Mclean’s life. (For example, she takes off in the middle of the school day quite often). Also, while it is quite readable, there are times when the book is telling a certain story, and then with no warning shifts back into “present day”, and you suddenly realize that was meant to be in the past. Timelines sort of flip across the place, but not enough to truly break the pace of the book.
However, the book turns surprising deep, delving into divorce and family issues in a way that is perfect for a young adult novel. While it’s light summer reading, you still get pulled into the story of the complexity of this girl’s emotions. Everything with her parents’ divorce comes to a head with long-buried arguments that are aired. Sarah Dessen weaves an intense story background in a way that’s appropriate for the age group, but not trivial and condescending to the readers. Overall? It’s “uh, like totally” (in the words of the teenagers in the novel) a great summer book. Wouldn’t everyone like to see what happens when you have a clean slate chance?