What Happened to Goodbye: A Search for Self
Sarah Dessen's latest romp in the YA Lit world, What Happened to Goodbye, is an unaffected study of loyalty and self-identity. The novel is told exclusively from the point of view of Mclean, a young woman focused on choosing her own path after her world is rocked by the unexpected divorce of her parents.
Rather than healing the person she was, Mclean takes advantage of the anonymity her new life provides her, trying on persona after persona so that she does not need to outwardly acknowledge the pain or loss she is suffering on the inside. As a result (and as a plot device), McLean remains unformed for much of the novel, only coming into her own during the final chapters.
Dessen does a respectable job capturing the cadence and culture of the modern teen. Following suit with her protagonist, Dessen's entire cast of secondary characters are nebulous enough that they do not come across as overtly cliché: the brain also has a beer on occasion; the hyperactive go-getter used to drum in a metal band; parental figures are capable of change. Having said that, no character is vibrantly fleshed out enough to really capture the reader's full devotion. While Dessen does a decent job of sweeping us along with a believable budding romance, most of the novel depends on Mclean's internal dialogue, the action falling into the background. This reader would have enjoyed less thought, more action.
On the whole, What Happened to Goodbye is a very suitable read for teens and young adults experiencing change. Natural dialogue, a steady pace and likeable characters make Dessen's novel a quick read and an excellent starting point for discussing life changes, personal choice and self awareness with young people. Dessen does an adept job portraying the effects of divorce on children and teens will find Mclean and her friends easy to relate to without feeling contrived. Although I would have liked more character dialogue, I would recommend this book to young readers, especially those who need to learn to make the best decisions for themselves, despite what's happening in the world around them.