Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye

By Sarah Dessen

Three Things I Liked About What Happened to Goodbye
1. Easter eggs*
2. Dave
3. Deb
(4. Restaurant business)

No matter whether it’s a new one or one I’ve read a couple times already, Sarah Dessen’s books always have an inherent familiarity about them. It’s partly her tradition of setting every book within about a 50-mile radius of each other, and partly the ever-reliable Dessen formula. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for Dessen fans – you know exactly what to expect, and you get just that. And what you get is a (usually, if you ignore Dreamland) likeable heroine with some confidence/identity/family issues who meets some friends and a guy in a welcoming, quirky, and usually new (to her) setting that help her to conquer her issues just in time for a satisfying but just shy of perfectly tidy ending. You also get a series of really hokey covers. That’s part of the deal. Just try to ignore them.

Note: The fourth Thing I Like About What Happened to Goodbye is in parentheses because it’s an honorary Thing. I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars, but docked it one penalty star for not measuring up to my favorite Dessen book (The Truth About Forever).

Mclean Sweet (um… let’s not even discuss this name) has lived in four towns in two years since her parents’ messy divorce. She lives with her father, a restaurant contractor called in to resuscitate restaurants in their dying throes, staying only as long as it takes to get the restaurant back on its feet before moving on to the next one – and the next town. In each different town, Mclean takes on a different identity, from theatre noir Lizbet (really, where does Dessen come up with these names?) to social butterfly Beth. She makes a policy of never staying long enough to get attached and always leaving too quickly for goodbyes. That is, until she moves to Lakeview. In spite her of efforts, her real name sticks before she can establish her new one, and suddenly, for the first time in two years, Mclean finds herself being… Mclean. As she falls in with an endearingly flawed group of friends (the best kind), including the brilliant and charming boy next door, Dave, Mclean rediscovers the joy of being anchored to people and place. When her life threatens to be uprooted yet again, she finds she still has no interest in goodbye – but this time, it’s because she wants to stay. 

More than a romance, What Happened to Goodbye is a story about navigating the choppy waters of divorce, making peace with your past, and settling into your own skin. Mclean’s relationship with Dave trails in importance behind her relationships with her mom, her dad, and herself. 

My biggest problem with Mclean (other than her name) was that she was more of a narrative voice than an actual character. The personalities of the secondary characters – especially offbeat and headstrong Deb, full of acronyms and surprises – far outshone Mclean’s bland brand of identity confusion. For a novel focused more on character development and emotional growth than the romantic relationship, Mclean failed to really come off the page for me. That said, the Dessen narrative voice is ever enjoyable, and fans will certainly not be disappointed.

*Characters from her other books that make minor reappearances.

Books Read This Year: 44
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

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