Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

I made it! Cut it close, but nothing matters because at the end of the day, I made it!! Woohoo!! Just been a long while :) Now, if I can only keep it up... Anyway, let's forget my blogging blues and talk about the book. What Happened to Goodbye has been in my TBR pile ever since it was released. Why didn't I read it before as I usually enjoy Ms Dessen's books, I have no idea. However, now that I have her newest The Moon and More in my TBR pile, I thought it was a good time to pick up What Happened to Goodbye :)

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
published by Penguin (Viking Juvenile) in May 2011

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.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: For as far as McLean Sweet can remember, university basketball has always been a passion in her family, most especially the local team from Defriese University for which her father played. After all, McLean is named after one of the DB's most successful coach. However, three years ago, everything changed for McLean when her mother who was having an affair with the new DB coach demanded a divorce because she was pregnant... with twins. And because of the coach's status, the affair became very public and it resulted in a lot of gossips and talking from everyone - the neighbors, sportswriters, classmates, etc.

When her father sold their restaurant and took a job as a consultant, McLean chose to live with him, even if it meant traveling and not staying in the same town for long. In fact, she has embraced those new starts, creating a new persona each time, trying to leave her problems behind. She's been Eliza the cheerleader, Lizbeth the drama queen and Beth the perfect student. In Lakeview, their newest home, McLean intends to become Liz, but before she can put her plans in place, people are already addressing her as McLean. However, she is not sure who McLean is any longer... and in that case, how to be herself?

My Opinion: Ms Dessen is one of the favorite contemporary YA authors in blogland and after reading good reviews after good reviews, I finally caved and picked up her books. What I enjoy most about Ms Dessen's books is that her stories are never about high school drama. Instead, they are about her characters having real emotional issues and figuring things out... and What Happened to Goodbye is not exception :)

In What Happened to Goodbye, a good part of the book deals with the aftermath of the divorce, McLean's feelings and her relationships with her parents. I thought Ms Dessen did a remarkable job with that aspect of the story. It was indeed very believable. My parents have never divorced, so I've never been through what McLean was going through, but had it been me in place of McLean, I think I'd be feeling the same way. It wasn't only about the divorce either which was hard enough, but the betrayal of her mother having an affair and getting pregnant. As such, I really understand why McLean chose to live with her father. It wasn't just the hurt and betrayal, but also the sense of loyalty she felt for her him. I also think that McLean's mother handled it badly by not answering McLean's questions or talk about it with her. Even if her answers had been mundane or cliches such as "we've grown apart," it would have helped, established a connection instead of closing it. Pushing for a relationship also wasn't the best move she could have done, not when McLean needed time and distance which is one of the reasons why she chose to live with her father. Even McLean's confused feelings about not recognizing her mother since she "traded-up" were spot on. Longing for something that didn't exist anymore :( This whole part of the story was very emotional and very well-written.

Something else that I really liked about What Happened to Goodbye was McLean's parents. They definitively weren't absent parents and actually were a big presence in McLean's life. From the beginning of the book, you can see that McLean is a daddy's girl. She has a connection with him and she's trying to take care of him and while her father did miss some things, he did his best with McLean as well. Also, as strained as her relationship was with her mother, at least, McLean had one. And the reason it was so strained was because they were so close to each other before the divorce. You don't often see such closeness with both parents in contemporary YA from my experience and that's why I thought it was refreshing.

As for the rest of What happened to Goodbye, it was pretty typical Sarah Dessen in my opinion. The heroine has her issues and figure things out as she meets interesting people among which is a love interest. Let's take it in reverse order :) First, the love interest is her neighbor Dave. He's a genius boy, the son of two college professors, who wants to experience the normal life of a high schooler... which kind of landed him in trouble. I liked what I saw of David - he was a nice guy; however, he won't make the top of the list of favorite Sarah Dessen's heroes, mostly because he didn't leave a deep impression in my opinion. I feel David`s character wasn't develop enough and everything we got from him was on the surface only :(  Second was McLean's new friends. They were a pleasant cast of characters, pretty normal people and that's what McLean probably need. Normalcy. There was one among them that stood out, Deb. I wonder if she has a story and if she does, I wouldn't mind reading :) Finally, McLean's issues. Obviously, they were closely tied to her parents' divorce. I think that at any given time, everyone wants to forget their problems and start fresh... and in McLean's case, she had that opportunity three times and used it. Yes, she was running away, but at the same time, I don't think there was anything wrong with it as long as she would eventually face her problems, which she did. The only unfortunate thing about making up new personas was that McLean didn't have any real friends, nobody she let in close in the time when she really needed someone to talk to :( The thing though with What Happened to Goodbye is that readers aren't witnesses to McLean's personas. For us, this is all after the fact and what we get in the story is McLean dealing with being herself again. It was interesting, but not very exciting or engaging.

My Grade: B. I think What Happened to Goodbye could have been more powerful, but at least, all the emotions related to the divorce were spot on and lent a very realistic aspect to the book :) While it  had some flaws and was not the most memorable book by Ms Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye was a nonetheless very solid and enjoyable read :)