Summary and book reviews of Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth

Hello Goodbye

A Novel

By Emily Chenoweth

Hello Goodbye
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: May 2009,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2011,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the winter of 1990, Helen Hansen – counselor, wife, and mother in the prime of her life – is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The following August, Helen, her husband, Elliott, and their daughter, Abby, a freshman in college, take a trip to northern New Hampshire, where Helen will be able to say goodbye to a lifetime of friends. Ensconced in a historic resort in the White Mountains – a place where afternoon cocktails are served on the veranda and men are expected to wear jackets after six – the Hansens and their guests must improvise their own rituals of remembrance and reconnection.

For Elliott, the trip is a parting gift to his beloved wife, as well as some needed respite from the caretaking duties that have become his main work. For Helen and the procession of old friends who come to pay their respects, the days offer a poignant celebration of a dear, too-brief life. And for Abby, still unaware that her mother’s cancer is terminal, the week brings a surprising conflict between loyalty and desire as, drawn by the youthful, spirited hotel staff, she finds herself caught between the affections of two very different young men.

Heartbreaking and luminous, Hello Goodbye deftly explores a family’s struggle with love and loss, as a summer vacation becomes an occasion for awakening rather than farewell, and life inevitably blossoms in the face of death.

February 1990

By the time Helen comes in from her run, the first sparks of dawn, pale orange and chilly, are reaching through the bare trees in the backyard. On the other side of the fence, across a gully cut by a thin creek, the neighboring hospital puffs steam into the morning. From its vents and chimneys and pipes, clouds rise, catching light in their curling forms, turning pink and then fading to white.

She slides a filter into the coffeemaker, pours in the last of the dark grounds, and leans against the counter. She’s been dizzy since her last mile, and sometimes when she turns her head quickly, her vision takes a moment to catch up: the breakfast table seems to wobble in the corner, and a silver blob resolves itself belatedly into the refrigerator. Call eye doctor, she scribbles on the grocery list, then adds Folgers below milk and carrots.

When her daughter came home for winter break, Helen brewed endless pots of coffee; four months of college had turned Abby ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel is told from three different perspectives: Abby's, Elliott's, and Helen's. Whom do you see as the central character? Which is your favorite?
  2. Although death is very much a large part of Hello Goodbye, the book doesn't feel depressing. Why do you think that's the case? What elements does Chenoweth include in her story that prevent it from being too sad of a read?
  3. How does the setting of the hotel and its grounds affect the plot and characters? Why do you think Chenoweth chose this particular location? How does she use nature symbolically?
  4. For Abby, the week in which Hello Goodbye takes place serves as a kind of coming-of-age. How does she change throughout the novel? How do you think she'll be...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Themes of love, relationship and loss abound, but are sometimes obscured by the commotion of shifting plots and story lines. Despite such fluctuations, Emily Chenoweth's novel holds unexpected and pleasant surprises. Her witty and engaging characters easily balance out the darker issues of mortality and the transience of life. A quick read, one laments the lack of time to get to know this group more intimately, but perhaps that is precisely the point of Hello Goodbye.   (Reviewed by Megan Shaffer).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

An understated debut novel of great beauty and power about a vibrant woman who contracts terminal brain cancer.

Library Journal

First novelist Chenoweth ... writes gracefully and eloquently of loss and love, portraying both generations at their most self-absorbed and most vulnerable.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Chenoweth's smart, unsentimental and poignant takes on living and dying ring true, and her exploration of coming-of-age and coming to terms with mortality is divine.

Author Blurb Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha
In Hello Goodbye, Emily Chenoweth fuses the lightness of social comedy with the ferocious candor of grief.

Author Blurb Alice Sebold, author of The Almost Moon
Hello Goodbye is a beautiful novel about a family on the brink of loss. Chenoweth's eye for telling detail is as sure as her language is playful ... both a wise and generous work.

Author Blurb T Cooper, author of Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes
Is it terrible to suggest that Hello Goodbye is like a literary Dirty Dancing - only with the added gravitas of terminal disease, and acting courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company? I hope not, because you're in some really good hands with Emily Chenoweth, whether she's surprising you with just the perfect detail or masterfully crafting moments so intimate that you almost want to turn away for fear of eavesdropping too blatantly. This is a powerful, tremendously accomplished debut.

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Beyond the Book

The White Mountain National Forest
It is no wonder that Elliott Hansen chose the White Mountains of New Hampshire to restore health and hope to his friends and family. The White Mountains have long been revered as a deeply spiritual place by the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micman, Maliseet, and other Native American tribes in the region. With its breathtaking scope and beauty, the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) boasts several ranges including Mt. Washington, which features the tallest peak in the northeast.

Though the White Mountain region was once sold off to large logging companies, the Weeks Act of 1911 allowed for the purchase of private lands by the federal government to establish National Forests. Under the...

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