Cindy: Fans of Rebecca Stead’s unique storytelling will appreciate her newest book, Goodbye Stranger (2015). Once again, several stories are spinning at once, seemingly disconnected, until the threads are pulled together into a satisfying knot. Friendships evolve and face challenges, even when three girlfriends have a pact that they will not fight with each other. Bodies change, female emotions change, and exposure to new ideas and experiences force change.
This book subtly, and expertly, navigates the “wonder years.”
These three friends remind me of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice and her chums. Seventh-grader Emily’s new curves have caught the eye of an eighth-grade boy, who asks her to text him a photo of herself. She sends a picture of her foot. He sends back a picture of his shin. The photos, and the storyline, never progress to the point of many newspaper headlines, but there is still some friction among the friends as they watch their Emily change before their eyes. There’s also another storyline about Sherm, whose beloved grandfather walked out on his grandmother after 50 years of marriage. His passages are letters written, but not mailed, to the man who hurt him. Finally, there is an unnamed high-school girl who is ditching school for a day, on Valentine’s Day, the day of the dreaded delivery of the carnation flower sale.
Stead’s books are as hard to describe as it is to have enough copies on hand to supply the demand. Sarah Hunter does a much better job in her Booklist starred review, linked above. All I know is that, as a middle-school librarian, I know many kids who are struggling with issues of friendship, body image, relationships, family dynamics, and the emotions that swirl around them every day. This book subtly, and expertly, navigates the “wonder years.”
Lynn: Cindy is so right! This is a difficult book to describe. It IS the kind of book, though, that friends will hand to friends and, after they’ve all read it, they will have one of those lovely “do you remember the part where” and I “loved where Bridge says” conversations. I feel a bit like that here myself. I loved so much about this book. I love how authentic these kids are, how Stead captures that core of sweetness that is in the center of often-sticky seventh-graders. I loved how pitch perfect the dialog is and the images that are so elegant and so apt and yet just right for a young teen to use—and so right for each character:
“But Bridge understood that life didn’t balance anymore. Life was a too-tall stack of books that had started to lean to one side, and each new day was another book on top.”
That may just be the perfect description of being a seventh-grader! I especially love Stead’s depiction of the characters’ explorations of the many meanings of love. She captures those first tentative steps with all the inherent awkwardness and uncertainty so well, along with the growing awareness that love comes in many forms. Bridge and Sherm’s decision to be friends and not rush anything more is a perceptive portrayal that will reassure many readers, too. I love the short chapters and the smooth, light flow of the writing. There is a lot of humor here and some weighty issues handled with sweet finesse. Thanks, Rebecca Stead! I’m wearing my cat ears all week!