Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye
By: Sarah Dessen
Published By: Viking
Publication Date: May 2011
Page Count: 402
Buy it at Amazon or IndieBound
Source: Library
Audience: Young Adult

Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that I love. It doesn't matter what the story is about - I have come to expect down to earth characters, tough issues, and addictive prose. What Happened to Goodbye is no exception. 

This latest Dessen tome features McLean Sweet, a girl whose dealing with the crumbling of her parents marriage due to infidelity. McLean's entire world has been destroyed and she struggles to make sense of who she is now that her old life is fading into memory. She finds herself choosing to stay with her father, a consultant for a food services firm, as he travels from place to place bringing struggling restaurants out of the red. His constant moving doesn't allow McLean to truly put down roots and is a constant source of tension between her mother and her. However, McLean sees this as an adventure, where she can constantly morph into a new personality. By being someone else, she doesn't have to deal with the stress and emotional baggage of being McLean.

However, something shifts when McLean and her dad arrive in the their latest stop with the mission to fix Luna Blue, the local Italian restaurant. McLean finds herself not changing her name and personality after certain events make hiding her true identity impossible; she ends up letting people get to see who she really is and she finds that in the end maybe that was who she needed to be all along.

As with all of Dessen's novels, I loved these characters and enjoyed spending time with them. McLean was a great main character; she was so real and down to earth. Also, she is someone who spoke to me and will speak to countless other readers. I know exactly what it feels like to have to pick up and start a life in a new place that is totally foreign from the previous world you knew. It's not the easiest thing and its even harder when you feel like people don't know the real you. I also really enjoyed Dave, the guy next door, who works his way into McLean's good graces and helps her discover how to handle the hard stuff that life throws her way. Dave is not only a sweet, awkward guy, but he also is the voice of maturity. I found his character to be a nice change from all the bad boys that girls in YA lit are constantly falling in love with. It was nice to see a more wholesome, level headed choice.

The family dynamics in this read will also speak to many teens who have had to live through the struggles and stress that a divorce can bring. Many of the kids dealing with this sort of issue find comfort in fiction. It's nice for them to see that these problems are real and that somehow it is possible to come out on the other side with a new outlook.

Additionally, I have always loved the sense of place that comes with a Dessen novel. Most of her books are set in North Carolina in a town modeled after Chapel Hill, a place that is near and dear to my heart. It's also always fun to see which characters from previous novels get mentions in other books. Ah, Gervais.

While Just Listen is still my favorite Dessen book, What Happened to Goodbye is certainly a close second. I can't wait for more of Dessen's work in the future. I love Sarah Dessen's writing style and consider her to be among my favorite YA authors.

One Last Gripe: I hated how McLean's mom always wanted to get lawyer's involved for every little disagreement.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: The whole theme of community - it was everywhere - in the model construction, Dave's advice, Luna Blue

First Sentence: The table was sticky, there was a cloudy smudge on my water glass, and we'd been seated for ten minutes with no sign of a waitress.

Favorite Character: McLean

Least Favorite Character: Heather

Since her parents' bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combining Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.


  1. I read this one over the summer. One of my favorite things was the building of the model just because it was such a simple, ordinary thing that turned into a bonding project. I liked Dave, but I didn't fall head over heels for him like Will in The Truth About Forever. And I totally blanked on the message of Gervais, shame on me (I'm always looking for the repeat characters). My fav. Dessen novel is This Lullaby, but Just Listen's amazing too.
    -Jenna @ Fans of Fiction

  2. I recently read this one and really enjoyed it too. I know some readers were disappointed with the lack of a romance like some of her other books, but I don't think a romance was necessary. The whole point of the book was for character growth and the broad definition of what makes a family.

    Great review!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, ladies! I'm glad you both enjoyed this one too. The lack of major romance in this one didn't bother me in the least. I felt the focus on family and identity was much more important.


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