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How to Say Goodbye in Robot


How to Say Goodbye in Robot

Before Beatrice moves to Baltimore, she begins wondering if she’s a robot. After all, that's what her mother accuses her of being when the neighbor’s gerbil dies. Evidently, Bea doesn't show enough sorrow over the little rodent’s death. Meanwhile, she is bemused at her mother's sobbing on the floor. Mom has been crying frequently anyway, and she wonders if her mother’s sadness is caused by yet another relocation, as her professor father moves the family from one college town to another.

Bea's new school in Baltimore is a private one in which all the students have known each other forever. In assembly, they are arranged alphabetically, which means Bea meets Anne Sweeney, who fills her in on many students’ histories, including that of Jonah Tate, the boy sitting on her other side. Jonah is commonly called “Ghost Boy” around school. At first, Bea thinks it’s because of his light skin, tow hair and pale eyes, but she is shocked when she finds out the real reason.

Anne also clues Bea in on Tom Garber, the good-looking guy who likes to date a variety of girls. Tom especially enjoys hitting on the new girls, first melting them “like Velveeta in a microwave” with his intense blue eyes. According to Anne’s lunchtime chatter, Tom is homing in on Bea, which causes her to muse that he will soon star in one of her favorite going-to-sleep fantasies, the one where Cute Boy is beside himself with sorrow while gazing at a dead Bea in her coffin. Since Bea can no longer listen to her favorite night-time radio talk show to lull herself into slumber land, her fantasies are getting plenty of play. In the cafeteria, Ghost Boy passes a mysterious note to Bea labeled “To: Beatrice, From: Future Beatrice.” Coincidentally, it’s an invitation to tune in to a radio station at midnight.

At home, Bea finds her mother acting wonkier than usual. First of all, she has hung weird chicken curtains in the kitchen to commemorate her recent obsession with all things chicken. Secondly, she is wearing a polka-dotted bikini to serve up the chicken dinner. When Mom goes to change, spurred on by hints from Dad, Bea and her father share their concerns over her actions. He concludes that she will be fine now that they’ve settled down in one place for a while, but Bea privately has doubts.

At midnight, Bea tunes in to the Night Light radio program. Herb, the host, has gathered together a community of listeners who call in to share, support and (at least in the case of one caller) harass each other. Bea is most intrigued when Ghost Boy calls in. Because of his invitation, she feels a connection with him. Although their friendship is off to an uncomfortably bumpy start the next day, the two begin to slowly draw close to each other.

HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT is a moving page-turner. The book itself is a stylish delight with a unique font and vibrant red pages dividing chapters into months. Bea is so finely drawn that one might expect to see her walk off the page. In addition, her relationship with Ghost Boy is refreshingly difficult to categorize. Several mysteries thread through the story; the one regarding Jonah's family is particularly intriguing, with an emotional and unexpected resolution. Author Natalie Standiford also weaves humor into the novel, such as when one of the callers to the radio program hosts a Party for People from the Future (watch for one of my favorite minor scenes here, in which readers are left guessing about a couple of possible time-travelers).

There’s so much to love in this book that I almost feel jealous of readers who will get to experience it for the first time.


Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 18, 2011

How to Say Goodbye in Robot
by Natalie Standiford

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545107083
  • ISBN-13: 9780545107082