What Happened to Goodbye: A Story of Divorce Through the Eyes of a Teenage Girl
By BShallue on June 28, 2011
In What Happened to Goodbye, author Sarah Dessen takes her readers by the hand, leading them through the land of divorce as seen through the eyes of Mclean, a teenage girl who is still trying to find solid footing two years after her parents’ unexpected split.
When I was eighteen, my own parents divorced. Saying I lost my footing for awhile at that time is an understatement. Although not identical to my experience, Dessen’s description of Mclean’s emotions and reactions ring true to me.
I could also identify with Mclean’s mother. She’s close to my age and I have a teenage daughter; I could relate to her as a mother reaching out to her child, trying to maintain a connection while still being true to herself.
This wasn’t a deep literary novel, but the story flowed and kept me interested. The characters were multi-layered -- almost too much so, like they were formed in Writing 101 -- but they felt real enough for me to be brought to tears a couple of times, which actually surprised me.
After the divorce, Mclean chooses to live with her father, even though that means moving to a new town, and therefore a new high school, every few months for his job. It means living in rentals and never having time to sink deep roots.
The divorce caused a scandalous stir in her hometown; she wants to get away from the whispers and stares, so at first welcomes the frequent moves.
Because of the divorce, she now questions everything she thought was real in her life before, even her own identity, so with each move she takes on a different name (variations of her middle name) and different persona.
In Lakeview something happens – she accidentally lets her real name slip out. She is befriended by kids who don’t fit any defined molds, who are complicated and have messy families, just like she does.
While the book felt a little contrived at times, I liked the messages it illustrated, like we shouldn’t make assumptions about people or even families based on outward appearances or our previous experiences, and that it’s possible to find common ground with someone if you reach out to them and are willing to be vulnerable. There are also messages about forgiveness and compromise, about looking forward rather than dwelling on the past and about figuring out who you really are.
References to well-known things by way of obviously made-up but similar names irked me, for example Park Mart, for Wal-Mart, and Ume.com for Facebook. Perhaps there were trademark or copyright issues that had to be skirted but they still bugged me.
I had a little trouble with place -- whether due to too little or too much description, I’m not sure, but I had a tough time figuring out where I was sometimes.
Another thing that distracted me was Mclean's voyeuristic powers. The book is written in first person and Mclean would often observe and relate someone’s actions in detail to us for long periods of time without being noticed.
But overall, I enjoyed What Happened to Goodbye. It’s a good summer read, not too heavy, not too light, full of mostly believable, well-rounded, flawed yet likeable characters who help us learn a few valuable lessons.
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