Teen troubles Done Right in What Happened to Goodbye

BlogHer Review
I couldn't get Reese Witherspoon out of my mind.

From the second I was introduced to Deb, a secondary character in Sarah Dessen's What Happened to Goodbye, I knew she was Reese. Specifically, Reese as Tracy Flick in Election (haven't seen it? go watch it. now.). I could not get her out of my head. And as I was reading about Deb's perfectly white sneakers and matching headband and quilted purse, and her quirky past involving tattoos and building model orphanages, I was picturing Tracy Flick. I read the book imagining Deb as Tracy and waiting for something to happen, for the story line to give us more of the idiosyncratic character that Dessen painted in bold strokes. Instead, Deb was built up in fits and starts and then left hanging. And I was left wondering why so much was made of her, if she was only going to fade away.

But as I said, Deb was a secondary character so she may not have warranted all of my concern. What Happened to Goodbye is the story of Mclean Sweet, a senior in high school who has moved from town to town with her dad after her parents divorced two years earlier. In each new town, Mclean would create a new persona for herself, complete with a new name. But in the latest town, Lakeview, she begins to unravel while also -- almost unwittingly -- beginning to put down roots. She tries to hide who she is and who she was but the new friends she makes in the town draw her true self out of her. All the while, Mclean holds a major grudge against her mother for leaving her father for another man.

I won't tell you what happens but I will tell you that the honest portrayal of Mclean's mini-breakdown in the last third of the book made What Happens to Goodbye worth reading.

Before that, I wasn't entirely sure. Scenes were drawn out, over-written, a family was described as being like the Gulag about a dozen too many times for my taste. And yet, there was something about the story that kept me hooked -- maybe it was all that envisioning Deb as Reese Witherspoon -- and when I got to the mini-breakdown I got it.

This is the kind of book I probably needed to read when I was a teen. And it is the kind of book that teens should read now, especially those teens of the female variety who think they have their moms all figured out, when in reality they don't. In What Happened to Goodbye, Sarah Dessen builds (albeit sometimes for too long) a conflict that should resonate with just about anyone who has lived through their teen years. Her resolution, while neat and tidy, avoids a lot of expected cliches and some too easy answers.

It's just a little too bad that we didn't get a little more of Deb at the end.

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