Book Talk: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

I received this book for free from Purchased in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Talk: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah DessenWhat Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking Juvenile on May 10, 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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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.

Combining Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.

This many books in a row into Sarah Dessen’s backlist, I’ve noticed that there’s a fairly typical formula to her novels. That’s not to say that I think she’s less talented for having a base formula or that I think she’s phoning the novels in, because she’s absolutely not. However, they do almost all center on a heroine who, for reasons, has closed herself off from the people around her and who, through the course of the book, opens up to love and family. <em>What Happened to Goodbye</em> very much fits this formula, and it’s one of my favorites so far.

Mclean’s not been the same since her parents split up in a very awkward public divorce. No, they’re not famous, but Mclean’s step-dad is: a college basketball coach. Mclean’s mother cheated with him, and ever since Mclean has been furious with her mother, resisting as much as possible all attempts at connection. It doesn’t help that Mclean’s father’s new job has them moving at least once a year. Still, Mclean’s very literally not the same every time they move, adopting an entirely new persona at each new school she attends.

Using variations of her middle name (Elizabeth), Mclean chooses a new name (Beth, Lizzie, etc.) and a new personality (theater girl, cheerleader, etc.). Like her father, she connects with people only when she’s about to leave, when it’s safe and there’s an ending in sight. One does not need to be a qualified therapist to see the connections. Mclean adopts new identities like her mother did, in remarrying and taking a new last name, having new kids, and living a very different sort of lifestyle. Mclean embraces the distance her father uses in his new career (he comes into failing restaurants to give them new life) and personal life post divorce. Mclean’s characterization is incredibly strong because her motivations are so incredibly clear, and I felt like I knew her more than most of Dessen’s characters.

Mclean’s intended new persona falls apart swiftly when someone accidentally gets her actual name, leaving her to actually be Mclean, which makes her feel confused as to whether she’s being herself or a fictional Mclean. She makes friends not by choosing a role but because they sort of fall into her life, somewhat literally. Despite herself, she connects to the people of this town and to the failing restaurant, Luna Blu. Knowing the end is coming, though, Mclean doesn’t quite know how to commit to anything.

The love interest in <em>What Happened to Goodbye</em> is, I think, my favorite Dessen boy. Dave’s positively adorable, funny and quirky and incredibly intelligent and very much himself. He’s the boy next door, and he’s fabulous and nerdy and I love him a lot. Dessen writes contemporary with a bit of romance, but this one has a bit more ship to it than most.

The whole cast in this book really shines, with the exception of Mclean’s mother and her new family. Her dad, though, is charming, and he clearly loves his daughter a lot, even if she’s more the parent. He’s scatterbrained but also brilliant in a way that’s highly endearing. His sideship is also super duper cute, which is hard to pull off in YA. Opal’s great too, and I’m seriously continually impressed with Dessen’s ability to make adults relatable and exciting as part of YA narratives. Like, I know I’m an adult, but generally adult story lines are kind of boring, but not so here. Jason’s cameo in the kitchens is really fascinating, and I now very much want a book about him and what happened there. Dave’s friends (who become Mclean’s) are great. Deb’s a total scene-stealer. Initially she’s annoying and you think she’s this massive stereotype but actually she’s this fabulously complex and genuine character who also needs her own book very badly.

Dessen routinely does a fantastic job with closed-off heroines opening up to life, but the books themselves are anything but routine. Dessen’s novels aren’t really my usual sort because they tend to be banter-lite at best and they focus more on family than on romance, but they really are just excellent contemporary novels (excluding her first couple books *cough*).

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