Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen


What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Mclean has moved four times in the last two years.  Ever since her parents very public divorce, she has lived with her father and his restaurant management job keeps them moving around.  At each new place, Mclean changes her first name and also the persona she has in school.  Now she is in the second half of her senior year and in another new city.  Mclean renames herself Liz at first, but then finds herself using her real name, making real friends, and feeling connected to a community.  But Mclean hasn’t been herself in years.  In fact, she’s not really sure she knows who she is, just that she is not any of the personas she has been before.  This smart, thoughtful book examines the feeling of losing oneself only to realize that it’s hard to find yourself again.

Dessen excels at creating worlds in her books:  communities and characters that readers will want to linger with and befriend.  Mclean is one of those people, as are many of the secondary characters.  Mclean is a protagonist that readers will understand immediately.  She is much more of a mystery to herself than to the reader, which is a great piece of the novel.  She is strong and resilient, independent to a fault, but at her core she is afraid, defensive and hurt.  It’s an intriguing mix of characteristics. 

Dessen’s secondary characters are also well written and complex.  Mclean’s friends read as real people, their interests and quirks make for well-rounded characters.  From Beth, the new girl who never managed to make friends, to Dave, the genius whose parents no longer trust him.  They are far more than they seem, perfect foils for Mclean who is far more than she thinks she is. My only quibble is that I was quite taken with the character of Deb, and I rather wished the book had been about her as a main character. 

Dessen writes with humor, charm and a light touch.  What could have been a problem-novel becomes something much more enjoyable in her hands.  This is a book that will speak to almost every teen. 

Highly recommended, this book is sure to fly off of library shelves into the hands of Dessen’s fans.  But I can’t help but think what a great booktalk this book would make.  Just Mclean herself, her moves and her different names and personas would be all it would take to get this book into even more hands.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.

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