When I Was a Teen I Wanted Mclean's Life
In junior high school I had an ongoing daydream about moving to a new town and completely re-inventing myself. New name, new look, new identity. A fresh start to be whoever I wanted to be. I don't think it's a fantasy unique to me. On the path of self-discovery that makes up a great deal of our collective youth, there are few who know that we are already exactly who we are supposed to be.
Mclean's life circumstances in Sarah Dessen's What Happened to Goodbye are not unique. A broken home and a teenage girl watching the pieces of her family rearrange themselves finds that she no longer feels as though she fits. What makes her story different is that she does start over. And over. And over.
With each move she plays out my little daydream of self reinvention and perhaps it's just me but it's fascinating to see it in action. It's just how I imagined it -- a new name, new interests, new person. A cheerleader here, student body president there, drama geek, jock. Except in Mclean's life? It doesn't wrap up in as neat as of a package as I had imagined. Because despite her constant charade, real life is still happening and changing who she is can't change that.
As a girl who once was a teenager in the middle of her parent’s bitter divorce, I found the storyline incredibly relatable. I understood Mclean and her need to control something, to start over somewhere and create a life that she could make sense of. I empathized with her frustration and misdirected grief. And I wanted to tell her that she was already good enough, so I kept reading in hopes that she would find that out for herself.
I wished for more of a resolution, I wanted a confrontation and confession between Mclean and her mother. As a reader I felt I needed that as much as Mclean did, an admission of some sort from her mother to right some wrongs. I recognize, however, that the relationship was restored realistically. There was no cathartic scene of emotional healing. Just a slow and steady rebuilding of what once was into something new and different.
Stick What Happened to Goodbye in your beach bag. It's an easy read, not quite chick lit and not quite Hemingway but a good page turner on a hot summer day with a cold drink in hand.
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