What Happened to Goodbye – Sarah Dessen

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Another town? Another new school? Mclean really doesn’t mind. In fact, she welcomes the chance to try on a new persona. Ever since her parents’ bitter divorce, she and her father have been on the move, leaving the unhappy past behind them. And each move has brought a fresh opportunity for Mclean to reinvent herself. Perky rah-rah girl. Drama mama. All-round joiner.

But here in Lakeview, for the first time she’s putting down roots, making friends, and just trying to be someone she hasn’t been in a long time: herself. Dave has something to do woith it. He’s the most real person Mclean’s ever met, and he thinks he’s falling in love with the real Mclean. Mclean doesn’t even know who that is anymore, but she wants to find out—before it’s time to move on again.

There’s nothing better than starting off your summer with a new Sarah Dessen novel. I had been eagerly anticipating Dessen’s perfect blend of  relatable girl plus troubled boy equals hesitant summer romance. I was surprised to find What Happened to Goodbye veered from Dessen’s norm, but in a good way.

When a heart-wrenching divorce tore her family apart, Mclean sided with her dad and decided to follow him wherever his consulting job took him. This meant a total of four moves in two years. At each new school, Mclean took the opportunity to reinvent herself, which included going be different nicknames: Eliza, Beth, and Lizbet. In the second semester of her senior year of high school, Mclean and her dad find themselves in Lakeview. Mclean is all ready to become “Liz Sweet” until she accidentally finds herself becoming, well, Mclean. And nothing is more terrifying to Mclean than being herself—whoever that is—and letting people get to know the real her, especially when there’s always the risk that she’ll have to uproot again at a moment’s notice. Letting people in and getting attached seems like a surefire way of getting hurt.

The thing about Mclean is she’s been so caught up in being someone else that she really doesn’t know who she is anymore. While I understand where she’s coming from, by the end of the book I still felt like I didn’t really know Mclean either. It’s clear she’s finally forming her true identity and re-learning a lot about herself, but I can’t help feeling like I didn’t get a really strong sense of her personality. This seemed odd to me in light of the fact that she’d cultivated such strong personalities in the past. She had joined the cheerleading team, student council, drama club. At one school, she was that girl everyone either knew or knew about. But from the way she acted in Lakeview, it was hard to believe she’d once made friends that easily or been that outgoing. Sure, she had no trouble approaching people or talking to strangers and she instantly connected with a small group of friends, but it seemed to me like they adopted Mclean out of pity because she was the new girl; she didn’t really have to try at all. And it’s not like people didn’t like Mclean. It’s just more like there was no reason not to like her. She’s perfectly nice, but that’s about it because that’s how she’s survived all the moves – only let people see the surface.

That’s not to say Mclean isn’t likeable. She is and she’s certainly relatable, especially to anyone who’s experienced divorce. Dessen perfectly captures the agony of divorce and its affects on teenagers and families. Though the situation differs for everyone, certain aspects are universal and Mclean’s attitude throughout is completely understandable. I like that Mclean isn’t your typical moody, angsty teenager. She’s rational, opinionated, and thinks before she speaks, which means that all her words hold a certain weight, especially when it comes to talking with her mom. Listening to Mclean articulate her feelings so well was enlightening. And no one was more interested in hearing what she had to say than Dave.

Dave is adorable. He is the cutest, geekiest boy-genius ever, and he just so happens to be Mclean’s neighbor. Interestingly enough, Dave doesn’t play as huge of a role in the book as expected. What Happened to Goodbye focuses less on Mclean’s romantic relationship and more on her personal transformation and self-discovery. But her relationship with Dave and his friends does play a part in this transformation. At first, I didn’t really understand Dave’s attraction to Mclean. Beside the fact that she was the new, interesting girl, they didn’t really know each other well enough for either to develop a crush. Mclean says as much when Dave’s friend, Riley, says Dave likes Mclean. But as they begin to spend more time together, it becomes evident that the two just get each other. They just have compatible personalities and are capable of making the other happy. For a relationship that plays more of a minor role, this is more than enough. Just knowing Mclean and Dave are happy when they’re together already makes their relationship ten times more successful than many of the relationships Mclean’s seen before.

As she has in the past, Dessen interweaves elements from her past books, such as referencing characters and places she’s written about before. I love these references and knowing that somehow, on a larger scale, all of the characters are connected. What Happened to Goodbye is a really interesting commentary on the idea of identity and how important our identities are. And, as always, Dessen writes skillfully and knowledgably about subjects that open our eyes to new worlds; in this case, she covers restaurant life and basketball. It was exciting to learn so much about those who immerse themselves in the restaurant business and I’d always been curious about families who appeared to live and breathe for basketball games. Now, I can kind of understand the appeal. Sarah Dessen fans definitely won’t be disappointed by her newest summer read.

Pages: 402
Publication Date: May 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Challenge: N/A
Rating [rating: 4]

Teaser Quote: “The name I’d chosen, the girl I’d decided to be here, was poised on the tip of my tongue. But in that place, at that moment, something happened. Like that quick trip below the surface had changed not only the trajectory of my life here, but maybe me, as well.”

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