What Happened to Goodbye: What I Liked As A Mother
Even at thirty five years old, it is sometimes nice to reflect back on what it was like to be seventeen. Sarah Dessen's novel What Happened to Goodbye did just that. In a story which feels like a glimpse in seventeen year old Mclean Sweet's journal, no matter the age of the reader it would not take much to connect with the characters here.
Being the only child of divorced parents, Mclean deals with the misery of her circumstances by avoiding her mother and hiding from herself as she and her father live that of a nomadic lifestyle, due to his job travels. Reinventing her name and personality with each new location, she manages to make the only pride she feels that of her lack of any life attachments. Moving to Lakeview though, changes everything. Without intentionally choosing too, McLean first gives her real name, and then accidentally finds herself making real friends.
At first the melancholy and melodramatic undertones made it hard for me to really dig into the story, but the reality is Sarah Dessen's books are written for an audience full of melancholy and melodrama. She writes the voice of a teenage girl, and she writes it well. There were quite a few things, as a mother, that I really appreciated about this book. First of all, I loved that What Happened to Goodbye is full of family. Families who struggle, broken families, whole families, worried families, happy and close-knit families...
Secondarily it addresses real life scenarios that teens face in a candid and understated way, such as teen drinking. Dessen did not make the characters all about out of control partying, but rather made their presence at a college age party just a detail. She also painted those same characters with hues of fierce loyalty, responsibility and humanity. Without taking a soap box approach, she showed potential consequences of such actions.
Third, I have a huge appreciation for the fact that this book was not full of teen lust and sexual relationships. That's a rarity among this genre and while I do realize these are things that teens deal with, I feel that our media and society place our older kids in the position of pressure far too often. As in the case of this novel, though there is sexual and emotional tension swirling about due to a budding romance, it really takes a back seat to the issues that both characters face in their own lives and responsibilities.
My only real criticism was that I wish the book would have addressed, just a bit more, about how healing began to take place between Mclean and her mother. It touched on it some, but not enough, in my opinion. For the majority of the novel, Mclean is clear on holding her mother solely responsible for the state of their family and yet Mclean never seems to grasp an understanding of her mother's perspective. She just, one day after an emotional excursion, isn't mad at her anymore. I wish there had been more there.
Over all though, as my middle-school daughter gets closer to high school age, I am glad to know that there is an author out there who writes relatable dialogue and perspective while weaving stories around prevalent issues and honest characters.