What Happened To Goodbye? Fried Pickles and the Many Nicknames for Elizabeth
Before I read What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, I had no idea that fried pickles were a thing. And then I started seeing them everywhere I went: at a local pub quiz, a burger joint downtown. They're delicious. And, even if you don't get as obsessed with eating food you read about as I do (I still regret Turkish delight) you should give both this novel and fried pickles a try. Reading this is a bit like hanging out at a restaurant you can’t help liking for its friendly atmosphere, punctuated by a few eccentric people.
Since her parents' divorce, Mclean and her dad have been on the move. As his job revamping restaurants takes him from state to state, she gets to start over in a series of new schools. And when Mclean starts over, she really starts over, doing a total personality overhaul, and crowning it with a new variation on her middle name: Elizabeth. As she moves, she becomes Eliza with “the jocks and rah-rahs,” then she's Lizbet with the drama crowd; in the next town, she’s Beth the student council joiner. But, as they move to Lakeview for her dad to start fixing up the restaurant Luna Blu (the restaurant with the fried pickles), she surprises herself. She introduces herself as Mclean. No alternate nicknames, no clique identity to disappear into, just fumbling along to figure things out.
I cheered for Mclean as she used the name Elizabeth as a canvas for her new identities. I was Liz in high school, Betty to my dad, and have never thought of myself as a Beth, though I've had people call me that. Playing with such a nickname-friendly name made McLean’s thinking about role and identity more concrete, without looking overly symbolic.
In terms of plotting and dramatics, this is a pretty low-key novel, which I appreciate. Reading this felt like exploring the new town along with Mclean. At first, keeping the distance she’s built up from leaving so many other towns, and only cautiously approaching her high school classmates, or the people working at Luna Blu. Dave, introduced as a friend with potential for more, doesn’t have to be McLean’s breathless One And Only romance. I like the kind, earnest Deb, and self-deprecating Riley. This is my first time reading Sarah Dessen, and the relaxed approach she takes to letting the characters figure things out, means I will definitely be reading more. Writing stories about high school doesn’t have to be harrowing, overwrought drama.
Another thing What Happened To Goodbye does particularly well is build up the emotional life around a fictional sports team, and a fictional sports scandal. Mclean’s parents divorced because her mother had started a relationship with the coach of the Defriese University basketball team- doubly wounding to Mclean’s dad as a husband, and a sports fan. With a few touches, Dessen creates everything you need to know to see the history and fans’ love of the team, and how it weaves through Mclean’s personal life and the town life of Lakeview.
Take it from another Elizabeth -- this is a fun read. If you’re new to either, it makes a good introduction to both Sarah Dessen and fried pickles.