What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Since her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother’s new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Here’s the scoop:

When McLean (yeah. I’m serious) arrives in Dessen’s signature town, Lakeview, she’s on her fourth move in two years.  She and her father have found a sort of rhythm in their life together: He works, traveling from town to town revamping restaurants, and McLean looks after them both.  They never stay anywhere long enough to take root, each remaining comfortably distant from their surroundings so that the next time they pick up and leave, it’s easy to cut ties. McLean has become a pro at this, reinventing herself in each town they’ve lived, adopting new names and personas.  All are a far cry from the real girl, whose mother’s scandalous affair rocked their hometown three years earlier, causing her parents’ divorce and the deterioration of the idyllic family life she once had.

The real McLean barely knows how she’s survived the dramatic turn her life has taken since her mother began a new life, complete with a new family.  Her hurt and anger has tainted her to the point that she refuses to live with her mother and, much to Mom’s disappointment, the two are barely on speaking terms.  She’s made it her job to take care of her father, who, in her eyes is the obvious victim and who works such long hours that he barely remembers to take care of himself.

When McLean meets a group of kids from her school she does something shocking: she tells them her real name.  In fact, she acts like herself—not the girl she wants to be—just plain, simple, imperfect McLean.  The real task is in recalling who she was before the divorce and who she is now.  As she remembers, she feels herself letting her guard down and forming attachments to the people around her, especially to one very cute, uber-smart, nerdypants next-door neighbor named Dave (tiny swoon for him because the whole smart nerd thing he has going on is pretty adorbs).

This is a solid story.  As always, I love Dessen’s writing, which is smooth and seamless and seems to envelop her readers instantly.  In truth, this wasn’t my favorite Dessen book though.  While the issues are presented with a sense of realism, overall, the cast of characters was not as memorable as they’ve been in novels past, therefore I didn’t feel quite as attached as I normally do.  Also, this didn’t have quite the sa-woon that Dessen does so well. While I don’t think this was meant to be a swoony story, but rather one about family and about finding your identity, it still felt like the romance with the love interest, Dave, was hinted at but never really got off the ground.

My favorite aspect of What Happened to Goodbye was the complicated relationship between McLean and her parents.  She struggles beautifully with her fond memories of her former family life, specifically of times with her mother, balanced against the grudge she now holds since her mom left.  She also feels a sense protectiveness toward her father that I found to be very sweet.

Crush Intensity: 3.0/5    Overall, I liked this book but I never quite fell in love. Still, if you’re a Dessen fan it is definitely worth checking out.

Memorable Quote:

Even all this time later, it still seemed capable of unexpectedly knocking the wind out of me at random moments.  In the first few shaky, strange weeks after my parents sat me down and told me they were separating, I kept combing back through the last year, trying to figure out how this could have happened.

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