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BookBrowse Reviews Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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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
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Multiple middle school perspectives on love, friendship and change all leading up to Valentine's day.

Winner of the 2015 BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel

Middle school is nothing if not a time of changes. Weirdly changing bodies, quickly changing interests, and, of course, friendships that can change – or disappear or self-destruct – at the drop of a hat. Rebecca Stead generously and thoughtfully addresses all these changes in Goodbye Stranger.

Most of the novel is told from the point of view of Bridge Barsamian, a seventh-grader who asks herself every day why she's alive. Not out of some abstract existentialist impulse, though, but because she is genuinely lucky to be alive after being hit by a car five years earlier. At times, a busy street, a honking horn, or even a tough decision can still paralyze Bridge with fear and flashbacks. What's saved her is the support and love of her best friends, Emily and Tabitha (Tab for short). Long ago they made a pact never to fight, and they've stuck to it.

But as their seventh grade year starts, all those changes start to creep up on them. Emily's newly developed body is attracting a lot of attention, from an eighth grade boy in particular, who wants Emily to text him some revealing photos. Tab is embracing feminism by way of a human rights club she's joined (and seems to have a little bit of a crush on her club's activist advisor). Sometimes Bridge feels like she's being left behind. But when she meets a boy, Sherman, who makes her laugh and think and talk about things she's never shared with anyone, she wonders: Is it ok to just want to be friends and not introduce one more scary change into her life?

Chapters told in the third person, primarily by Bridge and Sherm, alternate with chapters narrated in the second person by a slightly older girl who is unnamed for most of the novel. Her chapters take place on Valentine's Day, and the other narrative leads up to that day, too – but how are the two stories connected? Some savvy readers will figure out the identity of the unnamed narrator quite early, while others may be initially frustrated by the disorienting chapters, wondering what they're doing there. But readers who are familiar with Stead's approach to story writing from her previous novels such as the Newbery Medal–winning When You Reach Me will know enough to just sit back, relax, and let the story run its satisfying course, as the two narratives gradually merge and illustrate that even older kids don't always have all these questions figured out.

Goodbye Stranger, in its Manhattan setting, has a cast of characters whose diversity feels unforced and natural. As in her previous novels, Stead also depicts family relationships that, while realistically imperfect, serve as genuine sources of support and comfort for kids in the midst of their own questioning. She addresses issues such as sexting and cyberbullying in ways that are completely age-appropriate for her audience and that never threaten to eclipse storytelling with preaching. Stead also writes convincingly from the points of view of both male and female characters – Bridge and Sherm share a vulnerability, introspection, and kindness that will win over all kinds of readers. Goodbye Stranger is a winsome, at times outright funny book that also offers serious messages about loyalty, independence, and the preciousness of friendships new and old.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2015, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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