Review: What Happened to Goodbye

Anne Sim from Dromana Secondary College has sent us this review for What Happened to Goodbye.

This was the first Sarah Dessen book I have read, but it won’t be the last.“What Happened to Goodbye” is the story of McLean, who, in her final year of school before college, lives with her dad after the scandal that led to her parents’divorce.  They move from town to town every few months, as McLean’s dad evaluates different restaurants and either tries to save them or shuts them down.  This gives McLean the chance to reinvent herself in each new town, with a new variation of her name, new friends and a new look, searching for a version of herself where she can feel happy and secure.  When we pick up her story, she is on her fifth identity, but the latest town and the people she meets will challenge her attempts to be distant and detached.  Her friendship with academic and sensitive Dave, loner Deb and the others she meets comes to mean more to her than she is comfortable with.

McLean’s story touches on many areas of great interest to teens.  She struggles to deal with her parents’ divorce and questions who she owes her loyalty to.  She finds it difficult to trust after being hurt.The novel explores in detail the different meanings that home can have, and how important it is to feel at home and have a sense of belonging.  McLean tries to make friends and to help others while struggling to conceal her feelings about many things, and she struggles with her own identity and to be her ‘real’ self.  Being herself with others and trusting people is difficult for her after being hurt, and it is a challenge she wrestles with for most of the novel.  It is a substantial text that deals seriously with these issues.

This book would be great for older students or more mature junior readers.  It could easily be used in the classroom as a whole class text at Year 10 or 11, for studies of identity, belonging and family relationships as well as for looking at novel and character construction.  It is also a good text to look at the use of different writing conventions and the effect of genre and intended audience on the shaping of a text. It could also be a great literature circles book for the adept groups for Years 9 and 10.  While the central character of the text is female, it is not overly girly and there are a number of strong male characters who help balance the story.

As an adult, I found this book a thoroughly enjoyable read, with engaging characters and situations that were easy to relate to.  I would have no trouble recommending it to any of my students as a good read.

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