August 10, 2015

"Who's the real you?"

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Release Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Random House | Wendy Lamb Books
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
This brilliant novel by Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship.

Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games -- or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? 

This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl -- as a friend? On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight? 

Thoughts on Goodbye Stranger
Aside from a recent re-read of the Little House series, I can't tell you the last time I read a Middle Grade book. I don't have anything against books in that age range - it just hasn't been my focus in recent years. So, I'm honestly not sure what compelled me to I request this book. I hadn't heard of Rebecca Stead before, and the cover didn't blow me away. Then what was the draw? There was just something about the summary that called my name, especially the line about "the bond and limits of friendship." I'm a huge fan of stories about friendship - both the highs and the lows of it. And I'm so glad that led me to this book!

Goodbye Stranger is such a layered, complex story. It may seem quiet or simple on the surface, but there's a lot of depth here! You'll meet Bridge, a seventh grader who survived a near-death accident and is trying to make sense of her purpose on Earth. There are her two best friends - Emily and Tabitha. Emily's already developed curves and has caught the eye of a certain boy, and Tabitha thinks she's got everything figured out. Sherm Russo is writing letters to his grandfather... but he's not mailing them. And an unnamed high school student is dealing with a betrayal on Valentine's Day. All these stories are woven into something amazing.
"But Bridge understood that life didn't balance anymore. Life was a too-tall stack of books that had started to lean to one side, and each new day was another book on top."
I'm not usually crazy about stories told from multiple POVs, but it worked for Goodbye Stranger. Most of the book focuses on Bridge, and I felt like she was the perfect anchor for everything. I adored Sherm's letters, even though they broke my heart at times. And while the unnamed high school student story confused me at first, I grew to love it by the end. That viewpoint is quite different - it's in second person and is set entirely on Valentine's Day. The rest of the book begins around the start of school and moves forward toward that date. Once I wrapped my brain around the structure, I found my stride and couldn't put the book down.

Stead expertly captures the awkwardness and coming-of-age that happens in middle school. I loved the duality of how it's an age where many are still so innocent while others are grappling with weighty, difficult choices. For example, Bridge is wearing cat ears to school every day and Emily's started texting boys. They're best friends and in the same grade, but they're experiencing very different things. It's been years since I was that age, but Stead took me back to that time. While the target audience is middle schoolers, I think it's a book that can be appreciated by teenagers and young adults alike.
“Sometimes your body feels like a cage for all the stuff inside. You paint your nails, braid your hair, and buy the right kind of jeans, but none of it is really about you."
I don't want to share too much about what happens in this book, so I can't really talk about the thoughtfulness of the story. Goodbye Stranger touches upon sexuality, feminism, body image, purpose, friendship, family, and all the complex feelings associated with those things. And one of my favorite themes was the way it explores sense of self and identity. Middle school is such a formative time in childhood, for better and worse. It represents a huge turning point from childhood to adolescence, and Stead really captured that transition.
"Who's the real you? The person who did something awful, or the one who's horrified by the awful thing you did? Is one part of you allowed to forgive the other?"
And if you can't tell from all the quotes, I loved Stead's writing. This was a book that I wanted to savor! I was attached to the characters, and I felt emotionally invested in the story. I adored the moments of love and joy, and I ached during the scenes of heartbreak and pain. Goodbye Stranger reminded that it's hard growing up, but that there's beauty in it, too. There are admirable and unhealthy friendships, supportive teachers, involved parents, loving siblings, hints of first love... It captured so many relationships in just a few pages!

Goodbye Stranger was a breath of fresh air for me, and it made me eager to read more Middle Grade fiction. I'm not completely sure I would have read this book when I was that age - or that I would have enjoyed it as much if I did - but who can say for sure? What I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed it now, and I'm so happy that I read it. Goodbye Stranger gorgeously captures the lovely and the lonely parts of growing up!

So Quotable
“Life is where you sleep and what you see when you wake up in the morning, and who you tell about your weird dream, and what you eat for breakfast and who you eat it with. Life isn't something that happens to you. It's something you make yourself, all the time."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

2 comments:

  1. I've been feeling strangely interested in middle grade lately, for some reason. Goodbye, Stranger was definitely at the top of my list of books to try, and everyone seems to love it. Yay! Like you, I'm probably most attracted by the emphasis on friendship; friendship in books is basically my crack. And it's such a HUGE part of MG (as opposed to YA, where it sometimes falls to the sidelines).

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  2. Goodbye, Stranger sounds really great! So far, I've seen nothing but positive reviews about it from people - including you. I love that it focuses on this particular time in life, since it's full of so many changes and feelings and experiences. I definitely think I want to give this one a shot!

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