Monday, May 9, 2011
Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
After her parents’ idyllic marriage ended in a terrible, prolonged, and public divorce, Mclean has moved four times in the past two years with her restauranteer father. At each new school, she manages to make a new identity for herself, but for some reason, at Lakeview, the old Mclean comes out and, to her horror, seems to like it there.
Putting down roots is dangerous, and Mclean tries her best not to get involved in people’s lives. But they begin to worm their ways into her heart: the eccentric workers at her father’s restaurant, her new friends, and Dave, the boy next door. Will she be able to stand losing them when she inevitably has to move again?
Do you know the Sarah Dessen formula? An “everygirl” with an unusual name; a strained parent-daughter relationship full of misunderstandings; narration that at many times has its typical, literal meaning, along with a larger thematic one; and a nice-boy love interest. Despite the predictability of the elements, however, Dessen never, ever, ever fails to deliver a poignant and teen-pleasing read. Her tenth novel, WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE, will satisfy old and new fans.
There is probably no other contemporary YA author that I read as consistently as Sarah Dessen. I was thinking about why this is. Anyone can take the aforementioned elements of the formula and write a novel containing those, but Dessen’s attention to typically overlooked human details is unmatched, and is what makes her books stand out. The narration effortlessly makes note of the quirks that make characters human: the funny way they move their hands before they speak, for example, or their habit of turning on all the lights in the house when they come home. I think it was a passage about doing laundry in WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE that made me realize Dessen’s gift of writing about these details. For most people, laundry is such a part of their life’s routine that we don’t stop to think about how one’s particular attitude towards and approach to doing laundry is very telling of their personality. But Dessen notes this, as well as other details about everyday life, bringing her novels several rungs above other comparable books.
There is little I find that I can say about characterization, plot, pacing, themes, or writing style that is specific to WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE and not just generalizable to all of Dessen’s novels. Instead, let me just list all the things about this book that struck me. The lovable chaos at Mclean’s dad’s restaurant. The community “model of the town” project that the characters work on. Dave’s charming sense of humor. Deb. (Deb, Deb, Deb! Can there be a story focusing on her, pretty please?) The college basketball lifestyle, and Riley’s parents.
Okay, so obviously part of me wishes this story had been more about some of the secondary characters instead of Mclean’s pretty typical Dessen-esque bildungsroman, but hey, that’s not going to stop WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE from becoming a bestseller. Read it if you’re a decade-old Dessen fan like I am. If you’re new to Sarah Dessen’s writings, I’d probably recommend starting with one of her older books, such as This Lullaby or The Truth About Forever, but either way you spin your approach to reading this book, you will finish it feeling very happy and content.
Cover discussion: I know, I KNOW. I'm such a sucker for these girly-girl "evocative" covers. I fully admit it. I love how all of Sarah's covers have this in common amongst them.
Penguin / May 10, 2011 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $19.99
Sent by publisher for review. Thanks, Penguin Group!