Review: Goodbye Stranger

July 16, 2015 2015, contemporary, Kim, middle grade, Uncategorized 15 ★★★★

Review: Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger Published by Wendy Lamb Books on August 4th, 2015
Genres: contemporary, middle grade
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?
This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend?
On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Goodbye Stranger affectingly and realistically tells the intertwining stories of three young teenagers navigating the confusing and tumultuous time of early adolescence. Bridge, an accident survivor is looking for meaning on why she’s still here. Sherm is dealing with the aftershock of a family betrayal. And an unnamed 9th grader (written in a surprisingly effective second person) is grappling with a potentially friendship-ending mistake.

The story is about how life gets so suddenly and shockingly complicated in middle school. And it is about how teens deal with the newness, rawness, and intensity of their emotions. Best friends can suddenly betray. A beloved grandparent can walk out on his family. A boy can text you asking for “a picture ;)” but what does it mean? Throughout reading this book I couldn’t help pausing repeatedly to think, “Man, it is so stressful to be a teenager.” The narrative seamlessly intertwines to show how each storyline is related. Rebecca Stead has a remarkable talent for being in the heads of these young teens. The confusion, the joy, the uncertainties, and the blithe confidence–she nails it.

All is so skillfully and realistically rendered. Bridge and her two best friends, Tab and Em, are such perfectly imperfect characters. And their portrayal of adolescent girl friendship is everything I wanted to see in a book. Times get tough and friends do things others disagree with. The girls fight, and they make awful mistakes sometimes. But they stick together through it all and make the effort to understand and support each other even when they disagree.

I feel like so often teen girl friendship portrayals fall into the “mean girl” trap where the typical mean girl foil ends up becoming the focus of the story rather than the friendship is being disrupted. In the case of our unnamed 9th grader, there is a mean girl but she’s there as a way of showing how friendships and people change and that we can choose to move on from the people who hurt us and choose better people and better friends for ourselves. And it serves as a way to show understanding to even those former friends who so callously betrayed. This is unmistakably a feminist novel and an incredibly compassionate one.

Taking the backseat somewhat is Sherm’s story. Told in epistolary form, Sherm writes letters to the grandfather who has abruptly left Sherm’s grandmother, his wife of fifty years. Stead so endearingly and tenderly captures the heartbreak and confusion of this situation. And there aren’t easy answers, and maybe no answers at all. But there can be understanding and there can be hope. He also features as a non-POV character in Bridge’s story where the two develop an earnest and innocent friendship. There’s no romance, not truly, in this book, but there are some truly adorable moments and the clear kernels of the beginning of what could be something more.

The emotional keystone of the novel for me, though, is a scene between Bridge and her older brother, Jamie, where they ruminate on the purpose of it all. Life, the universe, everything–why are we here? Bridge has been struggling with this ever since her near fatal accident when a nurse told her she must have survived for a reason. What was the reason? She feels the weight of this unknown purpose every day. Who wouldn’t? If, like me, you’re a sucker for touching sibling relationships in books then you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

I went into this book thinking it was going to be much lighter than it actually is. And the tone itself isn’t heavy, in fact there are many moments of cuteness and light, but the subjects tackled are so serious. It’s actually masterful that Stead handles so many difficult and tough subjects  with such a carefully measured balance of serious and playful. There is even more than a touch of the philosophical both with the aforementioned Bridge and Jamie scene, and in the discussion that references the book’s title. We are changing all the time but who is the stranger? The person that we were or the person we’re becoming? Do not worry, though. The novel does end on a particularly strong high note. It sings. You’ll smile.


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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

kim teal






15 Responses to “Review: Goodbye Stranger”

  1. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I absolutely love Stead’s writing. She seems to be able to really capture a moment, an emotion and pull you completely in as a reader. Plus, I’m excited that this one doesn’t fall into the stereotypical mean girl “frienemy” territory but explores an actual girl friendship (those really do exist! *gasp*).
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Quick Shot Reviews of the YA Variety

  2. J. Oh

    Sounds like it’s right up my alley! Thank you for this awesome review. I love strong family and friendship dynamics, plus cute + light mixed in with deep. :)

  3. Brenda

    Sounds like a wonderful book, have to keep an eye out for it at the library. Thanks for the review Kim!

    • Kim

      Yes, please do! And I think it would especially speak to young teens themselves. If you have any in your life I think they’d appreciate this one in their hands!
      Kim recently posted…Review: Goodbye Stranger

    • Kim

      Well the book itself certainly helped me out in making it sound amazing. :p I’m sorry to hear it’s not for you but that’s okay. It really doesn’t have that negative, weighed down feeling from all the drama. There’s a lot of light and sweetness for such a serious story. I think that really helped since I’m not usually one for dramatic contemporaries either.
      Kim recently posted…Review: Goodbye Stranger

  4. Alexa S.

    I’m fascinated by the fact that Goodbye Stranger sounds so thoughtful and clever! I really think it’s way more interesting than I initially thought it would be, based on a read of the synopsis. And I’m pleased to see you that felt that way too, based on your review!
    Alexa S. recently posted…The Bourbon Kings – J.R. Ward

    • Kim

      It’s thoughtful, it’s clever, AND it’s adorable. And I’m convinced you would really, really like it Alexa! It is a lot different than the synopsis leads you to believe. So wonderful to see girls sticking together and especially through the hardships!
      Kim recently posted…Review: Goodbye Stranger

    • Kim

      Yes, I wonder if it’s because this is middle grade and not YA but there’s a definite unique quality to this contemporary. I think YA issue contemporaries are just so overall serious. This one has a thread of lightheartedness throughout that really makes the tough messaging bearable. I hope you do give it a try when you’re ready to take a break from fantasy!!
      Kim recently posted…Review: Goodbye Stranger

      • Vane J.

        I’m wondering that too, because now that you mention it, in the MG books I’ve read, the portagonist is flawed. In YA, on the other hand, they’re portrayed perfect more often than not. And I will give it a try! Sounds right up my alley!
        Vane J. recently posted…Review: The Queen of the Tearling

    • Kim

      Yes, especially since I wasn’t even aware it was going to be so heavy when I was going into it. And I usually don’t like “serious” contemporaries but Stead just does such a remarkably good job capturing that innocence and naivete of the age group with the super tough issues they’re facing. It’s altogether very charming and ultimately hopeful.
      Kim recently posted…Review: Goodbye Stranger