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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Goodbye Stranger: A Novel


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is one of those books that I read and then wondered where it had been all my life.

Bridge, Tab, and Emily are the best of friends. They have agreed to never fight, which works out well for their friendship. Seventh grade, however, has changes in store for them. Bridge, who survived a horrible accident as a child, decides to start wearing cat ears and befriends Sherm, a classmate she's known her whole life without really knowing. Emily begins playing varsity sports and meets an older boy who pressures her for sexy pictures. Tab begins exploring her feminist leanings and gravitates toward a strong teacher presence. As Valentine's Day approaches, these three friends will see their lives collide in ways they couldn't have imagined in the early days of their friendship.

I found myself utterly and totally taken by this book. The best way that I can think to describe how this book made me feel was like light, sweet buttercream frosting. It was sweet and captivating  and sturdy while not being too heavy or turning me off. It had enough bite to keep me coming back and finishing the whole thing without feeling guilty or lost. The thing that I found most fascinating about this book was how languid and light it felt, but I mean that as being far from an indictment as you can imagine. It was like floating on the surface of a private pool -- quiet and serene while still being everything you never knew you always needed. I found myself repeatedly coming back to these characters, which is what drove the book. The characters drive the story, and they were just so full-scale enveloping of me as a reader. They hooked me.

Stead is an outstanding writer; she knows how to grip her audience without relying any tropes or anything even close to thriller-like. She writes three-dimensional, full-bodied characters who I grew to adore, and I one-hundred percent bought into who they were and what they were going through. Em's full-steam trajectory into the popular crowd is easy to understand when you are on this side of it; how she was roped in and so desperately wanted to stay there and fit in. It's also easy to see how Bridge and Tab don't get it and continue on with their own lives, as Tab goes about finding her feminist side and denying help to Em in her quest to send an older boy a sexy selfie. Bridge's willingness to help plays off of Tab's search for self, and when that selfie gets out, Em's self-concept is challenged and she must find a way to deal with it. I wanted to scream at her not to do it, but I also know that you can't keep teenagers -- and pre-teens for that matter -- from doing what they want. It was hard to watch it happen, and you know it's going to happen, because you live in this world; however, it's important to watch how these young women in the story deal with it.

This was a coming of age tale that was contemporary and lovely, and it tells the story of three girls on the verge of a new world in an empathetic, kind, and honest fashion. I can't recommend this book more highly. 

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