Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Mclean never lets herself get too attached . . .
After the scandal of her mother's affair, Mclean and her dad chose life on the road. But since losing her family and home, Mclean has lost herself too; she's been Eliza, then Lizbet, then Beth - changing her name as often as she changes towns.

Until now. Her new neighbour, Dave, is like no one she's met before. Is as if she's always known him, and just like that, she becomes Mclean again.  Is it finally time to stop reinventing? Or will Mclean turn her back on the new life she loves, without even saying goodbye . . .(from publisher's site)

Sarah Dessen is perhaps the most famous and most beloved of contemporary YA authors. Her books and characters worm their way in readers lives and frequently top peoples favourite books of all time lists. 

Me and Sarah Dessen: I read my first Sarah Dessen in 2008 (Lock and Key) without having heard of her ~ and absolutely loved it... then proceeded to check out all her back-listed titles. Some of which I adored and are favourites of mine (perfect for a rainy-day comfort swoon-y read), but others have left little impact and been quickly forgotten. So I guess you could say she's a little bit hit and miss for me. Fans are also split on their favourite titles so it’s hard to predict which of you will find What Happened to Goodbye bumping on your favourites list ~ and which of you will find it all a little too meh (like me). 

What Happened to Goodbye has no huge inciting incident or great source of tension. Instead the book quietly unfolds in layers: each time Dessen revisits a scene/sub-plot, she goes just a little bit further than the previous time ~ giving more depth and insight into her characters lives, relationships and what makes them the way they are. Ad infintum and you reach the resolution: where Dessen has begun with isolated characters she ends with a motley group of friends who have bonded and each come to some form of self-actualisation.

Dessen immerses the reader completely in her characters lives. She is the queen of exploring relationships and the subtle things that connect family's and friends. She takes her time in creating atmosphere and introducing characters with all their nuances ~ and she does it well.

There was no mistaking Dessen’s signature prose when first diving into What Happened to Goodbye. Even without her name on the cover I could easily pick her as the author. There's an instant sense of familiarity when opening up the books (from having read her previous work).

So here’s what I enjoyed (& what you have to look forward to):

  • Mclean’s dad and the restaurant dramas. It’s chaotic and sensory and fun and those scenes were highlights for me. 
  • The first meet cute between Mclean and Dave. (I am a fan of meet-cutes :) I also liked the 2nd and 3rd scenes with them together. 
  • My two favourite characters were Opal (restaurant chick) and Deb (high school student enthusiast). Opal had a lot of heart and a bit of snark ~ her scenes added some energy to the book. And Deb, well, she's lovable and cringe-worthy all at the same time and completely interesting. 
  • I like how Dessen cameos characters from her past books. I'll leave them for you to find... 

Despite the parts I enjoyed, overall I was left feeling underwhelmed :(

I personally prefer my books to have a bit more urgency to them (even if it is a quiet urgency).The lack of tension or driving force with any of the sub-plots resulted in me being less engaged than I would have liked. If it hadn't been a "Dessen book" with some form of expectation I am not sure I would have made it past half-way.

While Mclean struggled to "find who she was" I struggled to get a feel for her. She was just a Dessen-esque 'narrator-voice'. The secondary characters certainly out-shone her. However, she was relate-able in that 'every-day-girl' sense.

I won't deny that my favourite parts of previous Dessen novels have been the swoon factor... and it was a little bit lacking here. I am not sure what technique Dessen was trying to employ with the romance, but there was no pull of attraction or tingly sparks between Mclean and Dave (although Dave himself was a cool enough character, he just did not work as a love interest for me). I would say this book was more about family and friends more than a romance-y read.

I struggled at the beginning where too many characters were introduced in little snippets and then revisited later and it took me a while to get my head around everyone. I also feel a few characters were introduced in detail and then completely fizzled out of the story which had me wondering: why have them in there at all?

Recommended: The thing is ~ despite the areas I personally struggled with, there's no denying that Sarah Dessen writes fantastically for teens. This is a book for anyone who has ever struggled with "finding themselves", fitting in and figuring out who they want to be. It's a classic Dessen and you can feel that she's poured all she has into bringing these characters to life on the pages. 

I did feel disappointed but I'm sure part of that comes from my high anticipation and how it seems all too easy to remember my past Dessen Reading Memories: the swooning and the sighing and the falling in love with characters lives which didn't happen for me here. I haven't meant to write a negative review but rather to be honest (and there's still plenty in this book to love despite my discussion points in the second half of the review). No disappointed review would've kept me away and I'm still anticipating whatever she writes next (there's just something about her). Also, looking forward to seeing what you guys think of What Happened to Goodbye :D

What Happened to Goodbye @ Penguin Australia
What Happened to Goodbye @ goodreads
Sarah Dessen's website
Sarah Dessen talks about What Happened to Goodbye

As for my favourite Dessen book (most people have one...) I am torn. I have read all her books (apart from Dreamland) and on my shelf at home are four keepers of hers that I love for different reasons:

If you haven't read her yet, GOSH, you should definitely check her out (!) asap. You could start with her latest title (which has some glowing reviews elsewhere) or check out one of my faves above :)

Thank you to Penguin Australia for providing me with this review copy :)


  1. i was really looking forward to this book, but the reviews haven't been so great, i am still looking forward to reading it. in most ways i'm quite easily pleased, and i go into dessen books looking for romance, so i'm hoping to enjoy it.
    the truth about forever is my favourite, and i also liked this lullaby and someone like you. dreamland is nice as well, but much more serious than the rest of her novels, not a romantic read.
    i didn't like lock and key much.
    thanks for the review :)

  2. I have never read anything by Dessen. Can you believe it?! Not sure if this is the best book for me to start with, but I definitely plan on reading something by her soon!

  3. Lovely review, even though you were luke warm about it you still managed to be so even handed and all the bits you mentioned were bits I loved. Over all I did adore it. All more swoony moment would have been nice.

    My absolute favourite Dessen is The Truth About Forever - it's the book that made me want to write YA, Followed by Along for the Ride. If I have a daughter she would be called Auden, but I think the husband might use his veto :)

  4. I'm hit and miss with Elizabeth Scott, actually :o Nice review, I can see where you're coming from with the urgency thing-- I think you put it best when you said it "quietly unfolds in layers", which was something I loved about it :) Ahhh, I wish there was more swoon in the book, but I can't have everything :P

  5. I bought a Sarah Dessen novel (I don't even remember which one) and now it's lying somewhere. I really should hunt it out and finally read a book by this author. Everyone seems to love her books!
    I am sorry that you found this book lacking as compared to the author's previous novels. I guess I will read Dessen's other books and avoid this one.

  6. I'm halfway through 'What Happened to Goodbye' and am enjoying it. My favorite titles by Dessen have long been 'This Lullaby' and 'The Truth About Forever.' Didn't read the ones that came before and though I read every one that came after, I haven't 'gotten into' any as much as I have this one. I'm really liking it, primarily because of Sarah's subtlety. I enjoy coming to a moment in a book that makes me really feel. There's no contrivance, it's just simple and genuine, but also kinda deep.

    This happened for me in a few fleeting moments when McLean thought of her mother and with the introduction of Deb's character.

  7. I'm pretty much the same as you when it comes to Sarah Dessen. There are a few of her backlisted titles that I haven't read yet, Lock and Key being one of them. I will probably read this one as you never really know what you'll like and as you mentioned there doesn't seem to be any consensus out there among people who like her.

    Lovely review as always, and you have such a way with words. Unfolds in layers - awesome description, Nomes.

  8. Everyone's reviews say the same thing: not enough romance. I already have a feeling this won't be my favorite Sarah Dessen...oh well! My fav is This Lullaby!

  9. My favourite Dessen book so far is The Truth About Forever. Disappointing that her latest is a bit underwhelming but like you I do love her writing style.

  10. Brilliant thorough review, Nomes. I kind of hope I disagree with you on this one - mainly because my expectations are *so* high and I want to love it. :D However, my favourite Dessen books are the ones with the most distinctive protags, so I can imagine how a more generic MC might be an issue. Still, I have a day at the beach set aside just for this one.

  11. It was VERY slow in the beginning,but once the majority of the characters get introduced it has a steady flow to the climax of the story. This book has no defenite ending, showing that not all lives can go exactly the way we want them to. These characters could end up together forever, but it doesn't go all the way through their lives so the ending leaves you with many possibilities. It all depends on your personality and how you want to percieve the main characters lives. All in all though, this was an excellent story. Sarah Dessen is a wonderful author and knows what will catch the attention of the audience.


Thanks for the commenty love :)