Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead

This is going to sound a little random, but Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger reminds me of a young-reader take on Jennifer Crusie's wonderful romance novel Bet Me. Both books focus on the various forms of love (familial, platonic, romantic), and both are simultaneously incredibly sweet and unexpectedly profound.

Goodbye Stranger is told via three different narrative threads. The bulk of the novel focuses on a trio of seventh grade best friends who are cruising toward adolescence at very different speeds. Emily's recent “growth spurt” has left her with eye-catching new curves, attracting the attention of both the popular crowd and a handsome 8th-grader, who keeps pushing her to text him a sexy picture. Tabitha sincerely wants to fix the world's problems, but too often she comes across as judgmental and tactless. Bridge just wants to figure out who she is, and who she wants to be. Periodically the novel switches to the POV of an unnamed high-school girl with friendship struggles of her own, and to the letters Bridge's new friend Sherm writes to his grandfather, who recently left his wife of 50 years in favor of a new life in New Jersey.

As expected from a Newbery Medal winner, Stead is a really good writer. Her characters are nuanced*, her plotlines are carefully developed, and I loved the way her story gives more than equal weight to the non-romantic aspects of the girls' lives: their families, their interests, their plans. A few plot threads are underwhelming—the anonymous-girl narration is unnecessarily distracting, and I was unimpressed by the “reveal” that Emily's admirer is actually a really nice guy. (Except for, y'know, his initial decision to pressure a younger girl whom he barely knows for a topless selfie.) Still, these missteps are minor, and young readers will need to search far and wide before they find a middle-school novel this realistic, this thoughtful, and this genuinely romantic.

*No one in this novel is as angelically wonderful as the heroine of Wendelin Van Draanen's Flipped, for example. Don't get me wrong—I love Flipped, but it's possible that heroine is meant to be the reincarnation of Mother Teresa.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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