Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Guys, I have notices a pattern.

Please excuse my delay. I’ve had a busy week with the dog adoption process (it’s so intense, it’s like adopting a child) and packing – I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Arizona for 5 days (more on this when I get back)! Anyway, I’m a little embarrassed to mention that I’ve only now noticed a pattern in Sarah Dessen’s books. The first is that most (but not all) of her stories take place during or around summer. Next, the story line usually involves the protagonist trying to find her place in the world (or something along those lines) until some sort of a struggle ensues and she decides to run away (may or may not be figuratively) instead of facing her problems, followed by some sort of resolution, with her facing the world and its myriad of possibilities awaiting her. We’ll see if my theory holds through with the last book in my journey of Sarah Dessen. Now, What Happened to Goodbye.

What Happened to Goodbye

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After her parent’s ugly divorce, Mclean has been given the opportunity to shed her old life behind and be anyone she wants to be. With her dad moving for work constantly, Mclean is able to start over in every town and reinvent herself – new school, new name, new persona, leaving every old town and old identity, with not strings attached. Upon her arrival in Lakeview, however, Mclean meets Dave and finds herself introducing herself, not as her intended new persona Liz Sweet, but as herself. With this, Mclean starts to believe that maybe, just maybe, she can start being Mclean again.

(Dessen, 2011)

My thoughts

Okay, I need to come right out and say it: I did not want to read this book. Infidelity and the resulting breaking up of a family is a very sore subject for me, and I hate reading about it (and watching in movies/TV shows). It’s usually enough to turn me off a book, putting it down and refuse to continue to read about it. So it’s a testament to Dessen’s work that I kept reading right ’til the very end. As I mentioned in my last review, sometimes we just need to deal with stuff that makes us uncomfortable, right? I’m not going to lie, throughout the whole novel, I wish I could just step in and punch Peter in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a violent person. I’m actually the first person who would abhor violence, preferring the “be the bigger person” route. If Peter were a real person, I probably would not just go up to him and punch him in the face. But I can’t say I wouldn’t think about it, if I were Mclean. Anyway, enough on that.

Mclean’s mother reminded of me of mine. The infidelity aside, it was frustrating reading about her cheerfulness when she clearly did something wrong. Trying to act like everything is okay when it’s not… This had my mom written all over it. I love my mother, but I could understand Mclean’s frustrations with her own. Sometimes, I felt as if I was reading about myself, a few years ago:

I sighed, so sick of trying to explain why I needed space from her. It was constantly under negotiation, her trying to yank me closer, me straining to pull back… My mother wanted control over me and I wouldn’t  give it to her. It made her crazy, so she in turn make me crazy. And repeat.

(Dessen, 2011, p.82).

I’ve mentioned before that my parents are also divorced and theirs was equally as messy. More than once, I’ve found myself in a similar situation, needing my space and my mother not letting me have it.

On the other hand I also really like the message Dessen was trying to send out:

Everyone is something.

(Dessen, 2011, p. 132)

I feel like this is an underlying theme in the book. Mclean spent her time hiding behind her personas, believing that she needed to leave behind who she was. But although she doesn’t know it, she is something to many someones. Her real self mattered to those around her, and she really only faces that truth towards the end.

In spite of that, I felt like some of the characters fell a little short. Mainly, Riley, whom I felt didn’t have enough depth to her. I found myself asking why was she so crucial to this story? Also, how does Dave get away with getting a matching tattoo if his parents are so strict? I also didn’t find this ending as realistic as some of the others. Things tie up a little too nicely into a cute little bow.

Aside from this, and the infidelity part, I grudgingly admit that I liked this book. I even shed a few tears, really empathizing with Mclean. I’m a sucker for happy endings (don’t judge me), so I like how Sarah Dessen leaved you often with a story with an ending, that although might not always be satisfying, always leaves you okay with how it does end up. It’s also a very “clean” book. Although the characters are all of an age where they’re preparing to go off to college, sex and drugs do not really make an appearance as they do in some of her other novels (alcohol plays a very minor part), so this book is suitable for younger teens as well. As usual, her story is very relatable and definitely engrossing. Sarah Dessen, you never cease the amaze me.

Sorry for the short review, but I need to get packing! Only one more book until the end of my *summer of Sarah Dessen*. 😦

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

 

References
Dessen, S. (2011). What happened to goodbye. New York: Viking.
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