Excerpt from Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Goodbye Stranger

by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead X
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 304 pages

    May 2017, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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When she was eight years old, Bridget Barsamian woke up in a hospital, where a doctor told her she shouldn't be alive. It's possible that he was complimenting her heart's determination to keep pumping when half her blood was still uptown on 114th Street, but more likely he was scolding her for roller-skating into traffic the way she had.

Despite what it looked like, she had been paying attention—she saw the red light ahead, and the cars. She merely failed to realize how quickly she was approaching them. Her skates had a way of making her feel powerful and relaxed, and it was easy to lose track of her speed.

When she was eight, Bridget loved two things: Charlie Chaplin and VW Bugs. She practiced her Chaplin moves whenever she could—his funny duck walk and the casually choppy way he zoomed around on his skates, arms straight down, legs swinging.

Her interest in Volkswagen Bugs was less aesthetic. Whenever she saw one, she shouted, "bug-buggy, ZOO-buggy!" which entitled her to punch whoever she happened to be with, twice, on the arm. She saw the red light and the traffic that afternoon, but she also saw a yellow VW Bug, double-parked near a fire hydrant. So, still hurtling toward Broadway, she turned her head to yell "bug-buggy, ZOO-buggy!" at her friend Tabitha, who was on a scooter right behind her. She wanted to be sure Tabitha heard her loud and clear, because she intended to hit her on the arm, twice, when they stopped at the corner, and didn't want any arguments.

"Bug-buggy, ZOO-buggy!" she shouted.

But Tabitha had fallen behind. "WHAT?" Tabitha called back.

So Bridget started again. "BUG—" and she flew straight past the corner into the street, a Chaplin move if there ever was one, accompanied by the high music of two screaming mothers—her own and Tabitha's—from somewhere far behind.

She missed third grade, but her body repaired itself. After four surgeries and a year of physical therapy, she showed no sign of injury. But Bridget was different, after: She froze sometimes when she about to cross the street, both legs locked against her will, and she had a recurring nightmare that she'd been wrapped head to toe like a mummy, from which she always woke with a sucking breath, kicking at her covers.

The nightmares began when she was still in the hospital. In those days, which stretched into weeks and months, her mother sometimes brought her cello and played quietly at the foot of Bridget's bed. Sometimes her mother's music drew designs behind Bridget's closed eyelids. Sometimes it put her to sleep. One afternoon, Bridge woke to the sound of her mother's cello and said loudly, "I want to be called Bridge after this. I don't feel like Bridget anymore." Still playing, her mother nodded, and Bridge went back to sleep.

There was one other thing. On the day Bridge was discharged from the hospital, one of the nurses said something that changed the way she thought about herself. The nurse said, "Thirteen broken bones and a punctured lung. You must have put been on this Earth for a reason, little girl, to have survived it."

It was a nicer, more interesting way of saying what the doctor had told her when she first woke up after the accident. Bridget couldn't answer the nurse, because by that time her jaw had been wired shut. Otherwise, she might have asked, "What is the reason?" Instead, the question stayed in her head, where it circled.

The Cat Ears

Bridge started wearing the cat ears in September, on the third Monday of seventh grade.

The cat ears were black, on a black headband. Not exactly the color of her hair, but close. Checking her reflection in the back of her cereal spoon, she thought they looked surprisingly natural.

On the table in front of her was a wrinkled sheet of homework. It wasn't homework yet, actually. Aside from her name, the paper was blank. She itched to draw a small, round Martian in the upper left hand corner.

Excerpted from Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Stead. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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