What Happened to Goodbye Rings True With More Than Teens

BlogHer Review

I didn't want to say goodbye to Sarah Dessen's latest young adult novel.

And coming from such an old soul, that's saying something.

What Happened to Goodbye tells the seemingly normal, but still surprising, coming-of-age tale of Mclean, who struggles to care for her divorced father who's moved her from town to town, so much so that the teenage girl loses sight of who she really is.

But thanks to a bevy of new friends in a town she thought would be like all the rest, she begins to remember the girl she was before her parents split.

In what first seemed like a piece of chick-lit fit for the high-school and early-college crowd, I was shocked to find myself identifying whole-heartedly with not only the kids in the novel, but the adults, as well.

After all, the kids are mature -- Mclean, who keeps track of her father's medical insurance card; her love interest Dave, who rails against his certifiable genius in an attempt to experience a normal teenage-hood; and Deb, a perky, upbeat girl who barely contains the complicated, sometimes dark, past and interests that bubble below a surface filled with matching sweaters and headbands.

And, yet, the adults are human, too -- Mclean's mother Katherine, who had an affair and a resulting new family while leaving Mclean's father; Opal, who invests all she can in a town and a restaurant that doesn't seem fit to serve her right back, and Mclean's father Gus, who hides the pain from his divorce by managing a restaurant job he's good at, but that dis-serves his only daughter.

The entire cast of characters is, in fact, likable.

Author Dessen didn't take the easy way out and paint certain teenagers as typically “troubled.” And she didn't lean toward her younger audience by describing any of the adults, especially the kids' parents, as evil or misunderstanding.

Instead, she makes each of them, flaws and all, relatable. And likable. And, in a way that speaks to the flaws within each of us, understandable.

Still, Mclean -- and her ability to cloak herself in the disguise of a different girl in every city she moves to -- remains the prize.

Her development, her ability to care, and her desire to find a home, even when hers is constantly transient, makes the reader hearken back to their high-school days. An even younger reader might find a friend in Mclean, as well.

After all, her human nature enables her to hide in order to survive. It's something every teenager, and adult, has done from time to time: Misrepresent a part of who they are so they don't have to explain it in full. So they don't, in essence, have to deal with it.

Luckily, for most of us, and for Mclean, a cast of characters stands ready to pull out the real person inside all of us.

Sarah Dessen manages to do just that with Mclean.

And, in the end, the reader really likes who the teenage girl, with many disguises, really is underneath them all.

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