What Happened to Goodbye is an Adult-Friendly Teen Novel
I LOVE teenagers. I've been a youth worker for years and I really enjoy getting to know teenagers and listening to them talk about their lives. That made Sarah Dessen's novel What Happened to Goodbye the perfect fit for me.
Although I love teens, I'm not often a fan of teen drama and fiction. I find that TV shows and novels written for teens tend to portray adults as incompetent and romance as codependent. This often leads to today's teenagers trying to deal with problems that are way too big for them to handle and getting into abusive relationships. Fortunately, Dessen chooses a much healthier approach.
Young Mclean, the main character in this teen fiction, is caught in the drama and selfishness of her parents' decisions. Her mother has chosen a new family, her father moves from town to town for work and runs from one shallow relationship to another. She deals with this by reinventing herself at every new school she ends up at. She chooses a different nickname, different personality, and puts all her emotional energy into developing her persona instead of dealing with the pain of her broken family.
I can really relate to this because for a long time I wanted to run from who I was, in fact I wasn't even sure who I was. I used to wear wigs and disguises and ride public transportation pretending to be someone else, having conversations with well rehearsed accents. It was perhaps a little less deceitful because I didn't maintain relationships with any of the people I interacted with, but the premise was the same. The desire to run from the unhappiness of your real life.
Mclean's parents are clueless, both of them refusing to talk about the past and pretending their new lives are normal and healthy. Fortunately, unlike most teen drama, Dessen makes it obvious that there's nothing normal or healthy about the situation. Mclean's inner thoughts are laid bare, she desperately wishes her mother would see how much her choices have affected her daughter. She wonders if her relationships are doomed to be shallow and short lived like her father's. She tries to hold everyone at a distance, yet finds herself tiring of the game of pretend.
I won't spoil the ending, but I'm impressed with Dessen's grasp of the inner workings of a teenage girl and her ability to shine a light on the emotional struggles caused by a broken family. But rather than stopping there, she goes on to show that talking and being honest about those struggles can lead to healing, and that's what gives me great admiration for this book.
Oh, there's also the intense craving for fried pickles that I was left with by the time I finished reading it. I'm working on my recipe now! All in all, this is a book I could happily put in the hands of teens, and thoroughly enjoyed as an adult.