May 19, 2012

Review: What Happened to Goodbye

By: Sarah Dessen
Published: May 2011 by Viking
Format: Hardback, 402 pages
First Reviewed: June 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
Add it on Goodreads

Another town? Another new school?

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 her neighbor Dave, an academic superstar trying to be just a regular guy, can help her find out. Combining Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.

Rating: 5/5

"Third times the charm." That's exactly what I was thinking when I started this. I read Dreamland first, really, really enjoyed it, then Lock and Key, which is now on my favorites shelf, and then this one. I expected it to be even better than Lock and Key, and at first I wasn't sure it was going to be, but so far, it's my favorite Dessen novel.

I love seeing growth in authors from book to book. This is no exception. From the time I read Dreamland (which was written 10+ years ago), that was clear, but I think this is her strongest work yet. Sure, she still has her favorite words that she uses a lot, but that was so much better with this. And there was a bit of repetition in the beginning with details, but it wasn't overly so. Those were my only nitpicks, and those nitpicks vanished once I was a few chapters in. Dessen has an incredible ability to make a reader read. I don't know how she does it, or how she crafts such a realistic voice for her characters, but she does, and I so appreciate that. The way she uses symbolism and themes is so refreshing, as is her phrasing. There's just something about Dessen that's so magnetic. This is writing, my friends. Commercial, yet beautiful and poetic without being too literary. Loved it.

Not sure what I haven't said about Dessen's characterization with her other works, but I'll probably just repeat a bunch of praise. Honestly, Dessen has some of the best characterization I've read. Ever. Mclean was this realistic, heart-broken, yet strong girl that I immediately connected with. Not only did I have a lot in common with her, but I think any reader will have something in common with her on some level. She had such realistic emotions, almost down to a "T." I loved her and how believable her relationships were with her friends and family. The development with the friends was even more believable and nice to watch.

Her supporting cast was just as fantastic. Dave wasn't the typical love-interest that I've now come to expect in YA books, and that was so refreshing. I loved him. Both his family and the family backgrounds of the other characters were all realistic and different. I just can't say enough about the characters in this book, so I won't ramble too much. Know that all of them, every single last one, had a distinct personality and part in the story and in Mclean's life. Dessen is a master at realistic characters that the reader can't help but love.

I have zero complaints about the plot, really. Okay, maybe one very small one: The beginning was just a bit slow. But that's it, seriously. This plot was paced so well. So much happened, yet so little happened, which is such a beautiful combination. And considering it was paced so well that it felt so real, it became even more beautiful. The build-ups, the relationship developments (both romance and non-romance), the changes, everything. And while not as big as in Lock and Key, Dessen still did the major-minor character sub-plot thing that I've mentioned before, where we got to watch other characters go through their own journeys and reaching their own goals. I love, love, love that, and I honestly couldn't get enough of this plot.

This book had conflict, emotion, and intense scenes, but then happy endings and seeing the characters find places where they can be happy and live a good life even after they thought their lives couldn't be repaired tugged at my heart in a good way. As with Dessen's other novels, this one consisted of so many wonderful messages and uplifting realizations that I couldn't help but smile when I finished this.

Other: Connections! Eeek! :D I so can't wait to get my hands on the rest of Dessen's novels because this is just so fun to me. haha! Anyway, I loved the whole use of basketball, because it's different from other books, and I really, really loved the whole setup of this with what Mclean's dad does for a living and how that tied in. Dessen knows how to put interesting and unique spins on contemporary fiction without making it boring or unrealistic or over-the-top.

F=What I loved most about this was that it was not a general fiction romance. It was general fiction. Just general fiction. Such a refreshing thing to see in YA world. I wish more publishers would see that works like this are still as marketable as a commercial dystopian fiction. No main romance plot--instead, it's just a relationship development between two people that leads to just a bit more later on. It's not the point of the story. And I think we need more of this type of fiction. Wonderful, beautiful, and so full of realistic emotions, there's no way this isn't a must-read for me.

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