Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Hardcover: 402 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (May 10, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0670012947
ISBN-13: 978-0670012947

In the past two years, Mclean Sweet has moved four times. At each stop, she assumes a new persona, but it never quite works. Whether she's an effervescent cheerleader or an intense drama queen, nothing can permanently dispel the turmoil and rage at her mother since her parents' divorce.

Sarah Dessen's novel about a teenager and her restaurant manager father captures the vulnerability that young people often experience after the dissolution of their family. A compelling story; strong characterization; and with a touch of romance.


Being taught to run away from her problems by both her parents made Mclean an insecure person and not ready to handle the difficulties she had to face with the courts and the custody battle. In contrast, it was nice to get to read about her memories of before the divorce and how the family really interacted; with the subtle signs of unhappiness between parents only obvious to the reader and not the main character herself. Albeit that she was insecure, I liked the fact that Mclean was always there when vital signs of changes in relationships, communication and secret talks were aired out. I do despise when the main character of any book is kept in the dark of the whereabouts going on around her.

Dessen understands and thoroughly explores the nuisances of contemporary issues. As you can tell by the amount of pages alone in What Happened to Goodbye, she deeply delves into the subjects we most always avoid. We have these constant problems in our lives and we avoid them as simple as that. What Dessen focuses on in this book is how—even though we avoid them—we can make them our focal point in life, subtly what we’re always thinking about, and adapt ourselves to having that weight on our backs. What we can’t look in the face is sometimes hard to read about when it’s in front of us, plain as day. Consequently, another theme the author pinpoints is beginnings, and how they lead—with all the stuffing in the middle—to the endings that we just didn’t see coming. Not only do Mclean’s parents face that particular debacle, but the whole book portrays it as well.

On to the characters.

What one must understand about Dessen’s characters is that they are so realistic that you won’t be able to tell the difference between them and your next door neighbors. That’s something I thoroughly enjoyed reading because all the side characters had their own unique back stories and they were all explored to an extent where you could imagine their favorite color. As a whole, they all played their roles in contributing their own personalities to Mclean’s story. They all felt like “real” people. (You shall get the irony of this once you read the book, dear readers.)

Gus Sweet, Mclean’s father, was a former chef and now an employee looking to improve restaurants in the nation for EAT INC. Even though it is partially his fault that Mclean is on-the-go constantly, it was essentially her decision. He is a good father that wonders how the continuous moving is affecting his daughter but not enough for him to stop doing his job of correcting people in what he considers and knows is a tough business. Overall, he is a smart man who has insight to the troubles that the people who he has to help go through.

Mclean, as well, does understand that her view of relationships and their uselessness stems from the breaking apart of her loving family. As in, if the happiest couple and family can’t stay together, why should she believe that any sort of relationship is bound to work? Then, she has to ask herself the most difficult question of all, how long has it been since her parents were truly happy and how has it gone unnoticed by her? In a sense, she creates all these images and identities to distance herself from the reality of making connections with the people around her, even if she views the constant changes in name and persona to be “fun”. To Mclean, it is a waste of time and energy to get to know people and then having to leave them behind as her journey goes on. However, like her father, she is a smart person who understands the inevitable walls that these ways of looking at life are erecting around her heart.
Example: “Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” --pg.236
As the story goes on, she develops into an empathetic character who sympathizes with the new friends she acquired and slowly starts to make amends for all the self-righteousness she didn't know she had.

Opal, Luna Blu’s manager, is the embodiment of all the managers/owners Gus has had to deal with throughout his time with EAT INC. From the very first pages of the book you can feel the tiredness radiating off her as she deals with a restaurant she loves fundamentally but knows is being held up on its last legs. Her development throughout the book was inspiring to see, and that she at first wouldn’t give up the simplest things just showed her determination to keep Luna Blu the restaurant it was meant to be. Incidentally, as Gus points out more and more the changes that need to be made, Opal knows the only way to save her favorite place is to make it more appealing to its customers. Her quirky attitude made her an endearing character when added to all her other characteristics. Out of all the characters in this book—Mclean, included—she seemed the most real. She’s a person that would accept reality when presented to her and take it into her own hands to be handled as she saw fit.
Example: “Where is your sense of adventure? Of change? This could be really, really good for the restaurant. A return to its past glory days!” --pg.296

The rocky relationship that Mclean had with her mother had it's emotional and tender moments that added up to an instant dislike of her constant pushing and then a tearful reunion. Peter, the stepfather, was not as much of an ass as I thought he’d turn out to be. Honestly, he has a very stark way of perceiving the obvious that’s refreshing and in-your-face.
Example: “‘Oh, there’s nothing decent in North Reddemane anymore….Just a few businesses on their last legs and a bunch of teardowns.’ 
I thought of the Poseidon, with its mildew scent and faded bedspreads, and looked at my mom, wondering if she even remembered it….‘It used to be nice,’ I said. ‘Things change,’ Peter said.” --pg.184

While the romance aspect kind of took a back seat to Mclean's family drama, I feel that Dessen did a sweet job of connecting the two odd-ball characters. Dave, the boy-genius/love interest, was certainly eccentric enough to match our main character's type of interest.
Now in her tenth published novel, Sarah Dessen creates another hardship situation that required a lot of self-discovery and had a coming-of-age transition to seal the deal. With a beautifully crafted ending to finish the book, What Happened to Goodbye was a memorable novel of love, loss and all the lessons, mistakes, and surprises people are bound to make. "Everyone is something." --pg.136

Grade: B+

Source: Bought


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