What Happened to Goodbye: Realistic Characters, Compelling Story

BlogHer Review

From the first page, I could relate to the main character in Sarah Dessen's latest novel, What Happened to Goodbye. Like Mclean, I moved a lot when I was younger. Each move offered the chance to start fresh in another location, knowing nobody. I was impressed with her attitude about relocating, and reading this book made me wish that I had, even just once, taken the same pointed approach to each move that she did -- new town, new 'me'.

I found Dessen's writing to be engaging. She didn't reveal too much up front about the circumstances behind why Mclean and her dad moved around so frequently. I tore through the first several chapters, eager to learn more and to get to know Mclean and her background. As I read, and got to know more about her mother, Katie, I found myself growing more and more angry.

How could any mother lay such guilt trips upon her own child? As a mother myself, I could relate to Katie's hurt that Mclean had chosen to live with her Dad after the divorce, and her subsequent remarriage. I had such a hard time feeling empathy for her, though, because of the things she would say to her daughter.

After a long spell of not having seen her mother and new family, Mclean had gone to a basketball game with Katie. She called her daughter the following week, buoyed by the good time she'd had with her at the game, and invited Mclean to visit the following weekend. When Mclean declined the invitation, Katie replied with a curt, "Fine... If you don't want to see me, you don't want to see me. I can't do anything about that, now can I?" I think I may have actually growled when I read that line, thinking, No, actually you can't, Katie, nor can you undo what you've already done to your family. I've seen this kind of verbal manipulation play out in real life, with my stepkids and their mother, and it sets my blood boiling.

This is actually one of the reasons I found What Happened to Goodbye to be such a compelling read. All of Dessen's major characters were very well developed, and I could easily believe they were real people. Thanks to Dessen's skillful storytelling, I felt connected to Mclean herself, and found all of the characters to be realistic.

This is the first book I've read by Sarah Dessen. With her ability to capture the intricacies and emotions of teenage life, I am quite sure that it won't be the last.

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