I wish I had nicer things to say about Goodbye Stranger, a middle-grade and up novel by Rebecca Stead. It is a thoroughly well-written novel, but does not have the clarity of focus of the rest of her work. Ultimately a narrative device plummets this once hopeful read into a bit of a mess; however, there is a central message that I think the intended age group could benefit from... if they are able to find it.
The story centers around three middle school girls on the edge of adulthood striving to make sense of their seventh grade year. Valentine's Day looms large, and betrayal is just around the corner. Alternating chapters switch back and forth between the start of the school year, and several months later from an unknown narrator. This is, ultimately, where the story falls down, as the alternating plot weakens the narrative as a whole. We don't spend enough time in either setting to get a grasp of the stakes at play, or even really the character dynamics, and I wonder if the author's time would have been better spent writing in a more straightforward and clear way. I had trouble believing this style was frankly approachable for the core readership this author is intending. Even I found myself grasping for understanding in some scenes, and thinking I must have missed something.
Now, it's not all bad. There is a very nice commitment to a multicultural cast; the author tackles real-world issues like internet safety, including one particularly stunning entry about shared photographs that will serve as a warning to any young reader in a progressively internet-centered age. And the central question raised from this book is one of growth and change - "Am I the same person today as I will be tomorrow, and do my mistakes/achievements define Mel or is 'self' a continuously evolving identity?" It may sound too heavy for the average middle grade reader, and frankly, it likely is. Adults and YA readers will get more from this book than a middle grade, 10-and-up reader. However, with the entertainment factor here, I was ultimately left wondering who this book was even written for, and why it received so many positive reviews upon release.
Reviewed by : Lawrence N. Caldwell
Themes : Childhood, middle school, internet safety, growing up, finding your place
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- “This memorable story about female friendships, silly bets, different kinds of love, and bad decisions is authentic in detail and emotion – another Stead hallmark.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review
- “Stead can brilliantly summon what it feels like to be a young adolescent… [Goodbye Stranger] is full of fun and generosity,. and… it is beautifully balanced.” – Wall Street Journal
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead