Title: What Happened to Goodbye
Author: Sarah Dessen [website] [twitter] [facebook]
Publisher: Viking Children’s Books
Parental Advisory: alcohol, drugs, divorce, adultery, illegal activity
Teachable Moments: family dynamics, interpersonal communication, identity crisis, transiency, professionalism
“This was the moment. Retreat and apologize, or push forward to where there was no way to return. I was tired, and I didn’t have another name or girl to hide behind here. Which is probably why it was Mclean’s voice that said, ‘You’re right. But I can blame you for the divorce and for the way things are between us now. You did this. At least own it.’”
Summary (from the publisher):
Ever since her parent’s bitter divorce, Mclean and her father have been fleeing their unhappy past. And McLean’s become a pro at reinventing herself with each move.
But in Lakeview, Mclean finds herself putting down roots and making friends — in part, thanks to Dave, the most real person McLean’s ever met.
Dave just may be falling in love with her, but can he see the person Mclean really is? Does Mclean herself know?
Dessen is a master of the contemporary genre for a reason. She writes endearing, interesting and emotional stories that feature multifaceted characters that a reader can root for. I’m glad to say What Happened to Goodbye doesn’t buck that tradition.
Mclean is a high-schooler dealing with the aftermath of her parents bitter divorce. Resentful of her mother for having cheated on her father Mclean chooses to live with him as opposed to the new family her mom has created with a new husband and their two children. Unfortunately for Mclean her father’s job requires they lead a more transient lifestyle. Moving from town to town over small increments of time she never truly gets her footing or the opportunity to establish solid relationships with her peers. Not that she’s really interested in that anyway. Adding an interesting component to her transiency is the fact that in each new town she becomes a new person. She gives herself a new name, new interests and a new personality.
What Happened to Goodbye has a some simple plot elements yet still manages to be surprisingly complex. Sure, there are some places where the story depends on common themes relating to children of divorce. The idea of McLean’s desire to be with her father instead of her mother isn’t unique yet the component of his job is. I did struggle a bit with the idea that a single father would move his child around as much as Mclean’s did, not to mention the idea that any judge would sign off on that lifestyle. However, given Mclean’s age and ability to make her own choices I was able to move past it quickly.
I was further helped by Dessen’s ability to avoid making her father so unappealing. What I like best about Dessen is that she writes realistically flawed characters. McLean is spiteful and petty with her mother while at the same time compassionate and caring of her father. Though her situation seems black and white the shades of grey she works through to accept that bad with the good is something she does her best to embrace. She has fears too — fear of love and intimacy, fear of acceptance — all of which contribute to her hiding her true self away from the people she meets in her life.
The romance factor in a Dessen novel never fails me. Rarely too schmoopy she provides the best kind of emotional experience; a near perfect combination of tension, angst and joy. Moreover, none of it is one sided. Mclean isn’t pining away for Dave any more than he is for her. They each have their individual lives yet the issues they face intertwine with each other. The fact that they make the effort to find each other is an enjoyable ride to take. More than that, Dessen doesn’t fail in the friendship department. Mclean has a diverse circle of friends. Each person is quirky in his or her own way but again not so over the top that interactions and situations are unrealistic. Mainly created through her unique ability to bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise be so inclined she finds herself constantly surrounded by people who have problems of equal magnitude to her own.
There is no question that Dessen fans will be happy and satisfied with What Happened to Goodbye. I would also recommend this book to lovers of contemporary fiction and readers who like an enjoyable though sometimes bumpy ride through family drama and falling in love.