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What Happened to Goodbye

Review

What Happened to Goodbye

Over the course of nine previous books, Sarah Dessen has gained a reputation for producing smoothly written, character-driven YA novels that are enjoyable (but not at all breezy), challenging and satisfying simultaneously. Her 10th work of fiction, WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE, is no exception.

It's senior year, and Mclean Sweet is on the move again. She and her father have moved four times in two years, as he takes on an ongoing series of restaurant consultant assignments. His job is a good excuse to keep moving, but the fact of the matter is that both Mclean and her dad are running away from her mother's very public affair and subsequent remarriage to a well-known basketball coach. They stay in each new town only a few months, long enough for Mclean's dad to whip a restaurant into shape, break some hearts, and pack their few belongings back into the car, ready for the next assignment.

Mclean takes each new town as a chance to reinvent herself, name and all. She's been Lizbet, Eliza and Beth --- cheerleader, emo drama queen, and student government leader --- a new persona for each new town. Each reinvention seems to take Mclean farther from her painful past --- and possibly from herself. Whenever she talks to her perfectly coiffed, polished mother --- wife of a celebrity, mother of twin toddlers --- during visits to her stepfather's new beach "cottage," she's reminded that there's no going back to the seedy beachfront motel where her family spent so many happy vacations.

But the problem with recreating yourself every six months is that you can forget --- if you ever knew --- who you actually are. So when Mclean moves to a new town and accidentally keeps her real name, she finds the effect jarring. Especially when, despite her best intentions, she winds up developing a group of friends she genuinely cares about and who seem to like the "real" Mclean. Most important is her next-door neighbor, Dave, a boy genius with particularly intense parents, a thoughtful young man who seems to genuinely like Mclean. But can she trust his feelings (and her own) when she's not even sure who the real Mclean is?

Long-time Sarah Dessen fans will enjoy spending time with this complex character --- and will delight that she's landed in Lakeview, the capital of Dessenland, where she encounters several characters from previous novels. Readers will enjoy getting to know Mclean as she settles into Lakeview and comes to know herself. The book unfolds smoothly, in a way that seems careful yet never predictable. Although WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE is less fervently romantic than some of her previous efforts, that's okay; the primary conflict here is between Mclean, her family, and herself.

Dessen has often focused on relationships between teenage girls and their mothers, and although that's part of Mclean's story, her relationship with her father is equally important here. Although her parents' evolution over the course of the novel is certainly less transformative, their motivations less well explored, it's clear that Mclean herself becomes, in many ways, the most mature one of them all.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 10, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye
by Sarah Dessen

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0670012947
  • ISBN-13: 9780670012947