What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

four and a half dragons

“Two a.m.’ He swallowed, then said, “You know. The person you can call at two a.m. and, no matter what, you can count on them. Even if they’re asleep or it’s cold or you need to be bailed out of jail…they’ll come for you. It’s like, the highest level of friendship.” 

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What Happened to Goodbye can be viewed as a simple YA coming-of-age book with a splash of romance which it is, but it’s also more than that. This book made me think about my friends and my family and my past. Those little things that build and build until they’re your foundation whether you want them to be or not.  

“Your past is always your past. Even if you forget it, it remembers you.” 

McLean and her dad have a lifelong love of basketball that they chose to repress because of her mom’s decision to cheat and subsequently marry the coach of their favorite team. The love of basketball was a great touch: it added depth and a backstory other than the painful family one. McLean creates herself with a serendipitous feel with each new place she lives. She waits until the moment strikes when she has to choose her name and decide what she will be like. It was enjoyable to see her personality fall into place even if it wasn’t in the ways she expected.

“It was amazing how you could get so far from where you’d planned, and yet find it was exactly were you needed to be.” 

I think sometimes it seemed like she wasn’t taking responsibility for her actions. She always said things like “it just happened” and “without thinking it through.” This happened less and less throughout the book so it was probably intentional character growth, but it bothered me initially.  

With the relationshp with the parents I was really glad the Dessen didn’t choose to pull a the-mom-was-never-cheating-because-they-were-separated-for-ages-by-then thing that often happens in books to make characters seem better and give an easier conclusion. This felt more realistic and the way Mclean had to deal with it felt more realistic too.  

“We make such messes in this life, both accidently and on purpose. But wiping the surface clean doesn’t really make anything any neater. It just masks what is below. It’s only when you really dig down deep, go underground, that you can see who you really are.” 

I adored McLean and Dave’s relationship. It actually blossomed rather than sparked and fizzled as many YA romances do. These characters didn’t fall madly in love then make the rest of the book about fluctuations in only that relationship. This book was well-rounded: it had a number of interesting relationships that developed over time rather than the flash-bang variety. Dave gave her space to grow and she did.  

Also, McLean is a great daughter. She takes care of her dad and doesn’t do what many YA teenage girls are made to do by devil authors. She does not groan and cry about how hard her life is or hate people for the decisions she has made. She rolls with her life as she has steered it and makes mostly good decisions. Granted sometimes she’s mean to her mother, but it’s pretty easy for the audience to see why and it’s really hard to blame her.  

Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye drew me into McLean’s story and made me interested in how she could grow. It reminded me of the always important lesson I need reminding of with all the moving I do:

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 

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