July 8, 2011

Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What Happened to Goodbye

Who is the real Mclean?

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.

Reading a Sarah Dessen novel is like meeting up with an old friend sometimes. It might have been a long time since you saw each other but once you get to talking you start to remember why you became such good friends in the first place. Such is the case with Dessen’s latest effort, What Happened to Goodbye. I’m not a die hard Dessen fan, but I have enjoyed the books I’ve read by her. Yes they do follow a certain convention but I truly enjoy the familiarity of the formula. Sarah Dessen novels make you feel good, they really are like good friends you see on occasion but love spending time with.

What sets What Happened to Goodbye apart are the one-two punches of Mclean’s relationships with her father and mother. Some of the most heartbreaking points in the book are the interactions with her parents, especially a very poignant one involving her mother. Mclean’s story evolves around changing who she is whenever she moves into a new town, it only makes sense that the more you change, the more you need to keep things the same to ground yourself to. Her parents, especially her father, are her grounding, that is to say, they are predictable to her and she can expect a certain amount of continuity with her parents. Although Mclean’s relationship with her mother is shakey at best, she could count on her mother to behave a certain way and that was comfort to her even if the relationship was not the best it could be. Sarah Dessen has such a way with these characters to convey the harshness of a broken family without being too cliche and definitely not over the top or overly hopeful. I really enjoyed the family dynamics of this story, especially the relationship she has with her dad.

Central to most Dessen novels is the romantic plot between the main character and her love interest. I have a bit of a beef to make about the romantic male leads in Dessen novels: they always seem almost flawless. Like, the girl is always this emotionally damaged damsel in distress and the guys are always these perfectly stable, high achievers who possess nary a flaw. What’s up with that? I think as young adults we are set up to identify with the MC and then fantasize about the man who rescues us from our emotional faults. I’m not sure how I feel about this theme except that I really do enjoy the stories and taken for what they are: pure escapism, it works. Overall, though, the romance works because it really doesn’t function as the central plot point. This story is about Mclean really figuring out her issues and even though Dave is a grounding point for her, he’s not the reason for her to come to grips with her own reality. I really like this message, that she is strong enough to admit her own faults and come to terms with them on her own. I like that she’s not a victim of circumstance but that she leans on her parents for support in times of emotional turmoil. This probably reflects real life closer than other Dessen novels I’ve read. It really shows that as an author, Sarah Dessen is revealing more depth to her stories that any young adult can appreciate and relate to.

There were some seriously adorable moments in this book and a hilarious B-plot involving a scaled model of the town they live in, great additional fodder for some of the heavier moments in the book that in some instances left me in tears. A truly well-rounded read and a delight for any Sarah Dessen fan. Not a Sarah Dessen fan yet? Read What Happened to Goodbye, you will become a fan soon enough.

Sarah Dessen is known for her young adult romances that sweep you off your feet and leave you wanting more. Other works by her include The Truth About Forever and This Lullabye among many others.

Happy Reading,


No comments:

Post a Comment