I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Stead, and I firmly believe that her books get better and better with each release. Goodbye Stranger has only confirmed that belief.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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?
First and foremost this is a book about friendship and community. Bridge, Emily, and Tab have an excellent friendship. Each of them have different interests, passions, and personalities, but they are also a cohesive well-functioning team who made an agreement long ago to never fight. You can imagine what 7th grade does to this pact. But the girls really do have a strong relationship, and the story of how they weather the ups and downs of the scandals, changes, betrayals, and tumultuous twists of the year makes for an emotional and engrossing read. The developing relationship between Bridge and Sherm is wonderful as well. They have a great rapport and they both need each other's friendship exactly as it is exactly in the place they're both in. I love how both of them are strong enough to hold on to it through all the peer pressure surrounding them to be a couple too. They are both independent and self-reliant and this helps. It's an interesting contrast to the relationship between Emily and her sort-of-boyfriend Patrick. Those two are both more vulnerable and far too open to the manipulative powers of the middle school collective brain. The friendship between the three girls and the developing friendship between Bridge and Sherm also contrasts the unnamed teen's struggle with her relationships in high school as she looks back on her own tumultuous year.
The story is told in a mixture of third person telling the story of the 7th graders, letters Sherm is writing to his grandfather, and the teen's story told in second person. Second person is usually a point of view that will have me throwing a book down and running as far away from it as I can possibly get. And I'm not going to lie and say that Stead's writing was such that she made me forget my deep and abiding hatred for the second person. I was still thrown out of the story and frustrated by the use of "you" in action and thoughts I was not having myself. (Seriously, second person is so frustrating. So. Frustrating. I'm not in the book. Artificial means of putting me there only succeed in doing the opposite.) BUT. It didn't make me hate the book like it usually does, and I can even see the literary argument for having those sections told from this perspective. I do think this is the book's one weakness though. However, they are short and fit into the rest of the narrative well enough. And the rest of the story is so strong from a characterization and thematic stand point that it makes up for it.
The books themes are incredibly strong too. It is a wonderful look at feminism, body shaming, the disparity in how boys and girls are treated by adults and by each other, and the unfairness inherent in all of that. It's also about friendship, community, family, and what one's purpose on earth is. I can not wait to read this book with my own daughter. The parents in this book make plenty of mistakes but love their kids and incredibly realistic. I like the way Stead was able to touch upon such timely themes and subject matter without being at all didactic about it. Goodbye Stranger is a story of realistic kids navigating school and life and each other. They make mistakes. They stand up for each other. They are figuring out life. Reading about their struggles and triumphs will be something many young readers will relate to and enjoy.
I read an ARC received via the publisher, Wendy Lamb Books, at ALA Midwinter. Goodbye Stranger is on sale August 4th.