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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Mclean Sweet’s dad, Gus, takes a traveling job to do what he does best: fix failing restaurants. What he doesn’t know—what no one knows—is that Mclean is more broken than any business he’s commissioned to fix. After her mom cheated on her dad with the Defreise head basketball coach, Mclean’s life is about as familiar as each new town they wind up in. So, every time they move, Mclean tries on a new alias and attempts to find herself in the wake of life’s new dynamic. When they move to Lakeview, however, something crazy happens: she accidentally tells the truth, revealing to her new neighbor, Dave Wade, that she is Mclean. But it isn’t a comfort; it’s like name is nakedly transparent. Embarrassed of her mother’s infidelity, Mclean struggles to protect the rest of her identity so that her dad won’t be hurt all over again when people bring up what happened.
Protecting her father is also why Mclean won’t make up with her mother. She avoids her phone calls and video chats because a.) she isn’t ready to make nice, and b.) it might hurt her dad too much to see her acting like everything is okay—like it’s normal to have darling twin siblings spawned from an illicit affair; like it’s normal to laugh with the mother who destroyed everything else in your universe. But she can’t forever avoid the family vacation her mom has planned. Mclean finally tells her dad that she needs to go on a trip with her mom and new family. He isn’t hurt, but Mclean still feels guilty—so guilty and confused that the vacation is a chore.
The new, rich life her mom has stumbled into is far from the relaxed and low-key vacations her “real” family used to take at that same beach. In the height of her guilt and confusion—almost enjoying the vacation yet refusing to—she overhears something that makes all the difference in her choice to forgive her mom and move on. Mclean rushes away from the beach house without permission and meets Dave who, despite the drama of having found all Mclean’s sharply contrasting personas online, helps her makes sense of it all. When her parents finally find her at the hotel where they used to stay, Mclean tells them everything that she—not Eliza, Lizbet, or Beth—feels, leaving the reader with a satisfying climax. In the sad-but-real resolution and denouement, Maclean realizes there is nothing she can do to change the past, but she can embrace who she is for now and change her approach to the future.
What strikes me most about this book is the cadence. Sarah’s words leave a lull in your head that you don’t realize is there until you stop reading. What Happened to Goodbye is no less beautiful and refreshing, suspenseful and foreboding, peaceful and heartbreaking than the ocean. Now that the book is finished, I kind of want to hold a seashell to my ears.
Beyond its organic and aesthetic appeal, this book makes me happy because it gives life and a voice to an often-marginalized group of readers: “normal” kids who are suffering from their parents’ decisions. So many teenagers escape into books rooted in fantasy, and that’s okay—I’ve read books just to escape before. But I think that’s because if kids can’t find themselves in books, they at least find who they want to be. It’s a form of escapism. What Happened to Goodbye is so real in an everyday sense that it speak to those kids who can’t find their stories in the paranormal or the romantic; it mirrors the internal conflict of those who are devastated and embarrassed by divorce, affairs, and watching their parents date and remarry again. It kind of makes you wonder if this has anything to do with Sarah D’s ridiculous fan base—you know, that she has this way of speaking to people? 🙂
Parents and teenagers alike should read this book. It’s a flawlessly real look at the ripples of our actions and how those ripples turn to waves, sometimes drowning who we are.

Comments

  1. Great review and interview! Adding it to my queue right now. Thanks!

    Shelley
    @stuperb

  2. You’re great, Shelley. Thanks! I’ll find you on twitter.

    I’m @fortheloveofya

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