Friday, December 6, 2013

Rereading Sarah Dessen: What Happened to Goodbye

Another month, another I Eat Words Sarah Dessen Read/Reread Challenge read! Check out this post that explains the details about the awesomeness that is this challenge. This month my best friend Sandy and I reread Dessen's second latest book, What Happened to Goodbye. I was so-so on it when it first came out so I wondered if things had changed over the past two years. I'm not sure they changed a lot but I do think I enjoyed reading this more the second time around.

Who is the real McLean?
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.
About the Story
Main  Character: Mclean Sweet
Age: 17 (or 18...not really sure. She's a high school senior.)
School Year or Summer?: School year.
Boy: Dave Wade
First description of the boy: " was a guy in jeans and long hair, wearing a faded flannel shirt, beat-up Adidas on his feet." (page 12)
Crushable?: Definitely.
Big Secret?: Not really.
Heavy Storyline?: Not super heavy. Fairly average divorced child life.
Parents Together?: No.
Sibling(s)?: Twin half siblings, who are toddlers.
Takes Place In: Lakeview but Colby gets some attention.
Cameos: Jason from The Truth About Forever plays a fairly large role in this one and I loved that! We got to see what he's been up to. The Last Chance in Colby is frequented once again. Heidi and her store from Along for the Ride show up as well. Jump Java is mentioned, which is where Dexter's bandmade and Scarlett (from Someone Like You) work in This Lullaby. On page 53 there's a mention of a boy and girl listening to and talking about music - they're Annabel and Owen from Just Listen.

About the Book
Released: 2011
Epigraph?: Yes, song lyrics. "Break away from/what you've known/You are not alone/We can build/a brand new home/You are not alone" Ben Lee, "Families Cheating at Board Games"
Format (of the copy I read): Hardcover.
Own?: Yes.
Signed?: Yes.
Read or Reread: Reread.
Age when first read: 24.
New cover vs older cover: New - for purely aesthetic reasons. The older one makes more sense but the new one is just nicer to look at.

My Thoughts
It was an interesting experience rereading What Happened to Goodbye this month. Apart from the latest Dessen book, The Moon and More, which just came out this past spring, this was the last Sarah Dessen book I read. This book was only released two years ago so, of course, I already have a review up on this blog. I haven’t reread it yet…partly because this challenge is all about a fresh look and partly because my internet isn’t working as I type this into a Word document so I couldn’t look at it even if I wanted to. So, because it was such a recent read, I found that I remembered a lot more about it. Not just the big picture but the little side stories. It was still a great reread though and I think I loved it more this time around.

One of the things I loved about this book the first time around was the basketball element. I played basketball all through elementary and high school and did intramurals in university. It’s not a sport that you’ll find in a lot of books (that honour belongs to football) and I think that’s another reason why I enjoyed it. Basketball is both a big part of the story and not. We see more of the absence of the sport than actual games (though those are present too) since Mclean and her dad have an unspoken agreement not to mention the sport or how, in a roundabout way, their association with it turned their lives upside down. I also liked that the basketball storyline is a little bit of Dessen herself coming through the pages. She lives in Chapel Hill, which is where the University of North Caroline is. She is a huge UNC fan. I may not watch basketball (weird, I know) but I enjoy how into it Dessen gets.

Mclean is an interesting character. She’s really unsure about who she is and where she fits in. And I don’t think that’s because she had been changing her personality over and over and over again for the past two years, along with moving towns and changing schools multiple times. I think her parents’ divorce really rattled her (which is completely understandable...I speak from experience). She was old enough to understand how romantic relationships really work but not quite mature enough to get why sometimes marriages fail. So she does what’s absolutely expected: she blames her mom, Katherine, for cheating on her dad and ruining their lives. It was hard to read the scenes with Mclean and her mom because I knew Katherine truly wants what’s best for Mclean and wants to be in her life, like she used to be. I absolutely understood Mclean’s anger but I wished she would realize how important it is that both of her parents loved her and wanted her in their lives. That doesn’t always happen. Anyway, back to Mclean being an interesting character...I think she's great. She's your average teen. That might sound boring but this shows how awesome Dessen is. She can take an average teen girl with a few problems that are fairly common and make her completely compelling and interesting. I always used to recommend Dessen at the bookstore I worked at because of this...every teen girl can find something to relate to in Dessen's characters no matter what their own life situation is. Love it.

Speaking of love, the romance in this story is downright adorable. I loved Dave and how he could tell that he needed to move slow when it came to Mclean (she was like a bunny who would be easily spooked). He was funny, smart, but down to earth. And what he does at the end with the town model? Swoon. I would have totally fallen for him if he had been around when I was 17. Actually, funny, smart, and down to earth describes my boyfriend pretty well and I started dating him at 18... :)

*pauses for a reread of my first What Happened to Goodbye review*
*realizes the review wasn't actually much of a review and isn't very helpful*

Right! So I apparently really don't have a lot of things to say about this novel that I haven't already talked about. Basically, it What Happened to Goodbye is a great book but it's not one of Dessen's best, in my opinion. Read on to find out what Sandy thought. As usual it's a lot more heartfelt and poetic than my review :)

Sandy's Thoughts
It seems as though I have been very fortunate in my love for Sarah Dessen novels. They happen to be published just before I go on vacation with my family. Oddly enough our usual vacation spot is Virginia Beach, located not too far from North Carolina where Sarah Dessen lives and gets the inspiration for the towns in her novels. I feel very connected to her novels because of this and What Happened to Goodbye is no exception. This particular book came out just two days before my birthday in 2011. I got the book and waited two months to read it while on vacation of course. Being in a beachy atmosphere while reading a beachy book is wonderful. I have fond recollections of both Goodbye and Along for the Ride because I read them in an area I felt they were connected to.

In 2011 I persuaded my family to visit Chapel Hill, North Carolina to see the U-town that Sarah Dessen describes. It was amazing! We had a fantastic trip and even saw the Flyleaf bookstore where she does a lot of readings. That same year Kaley scored a fantastic opportunity through a contest to meet Sarah Dessen in Toronto while she was doing a book tour for What Happened to Goodbye. It was very exciting and meeting her in person was a thrill. She is a wonderful, down to earth person, much like the characters she writes.

Mclean’s story is compelling from the very beginning. As a reader, you find yourself constantly asking, “who is this girl?” Mclean seems to be wondering the same thing. Change is a powerful force, everybody reacts to it in a different way. Some people resist the change, some embrace it, some try to hideaway from it and others overcompensate to try and keep the change from happening.

After her parents divorce Mclean goes into escapist mode. The world she has become familiar with has shattered so she creates a new one. The only problem is she doesn’t stop at just one. She continually changes herself by going from one town to another and creating a different persona for herself based on the feeling she gets about her surroundings.

When the epic love story she thought her parents had implodes she buries the hurt and resentment and tries to move on as a new girl. New life, new school, new girl. It works for a while but a while is all she needs. She uses these new personas as a means of escape. Her old name and identity remind her of the “perfect” life she has lost. She tests each new “Sweet girl” out to see which one fits the new life she has been dealt. The truth is that none of them really fit because none of them are real. Parts of them are but knowing that none of it is permanent makes it hard for anything about her to be truly real.

Her emotions about the life she left behind can only be ignored for so long before she and her parents have to deal with them. She blames her mother for all of it and that of course puts a lot of strain on their relationship. Trying to respect a parent when you disagree with what they do is really hard. The actions of her mother ripped Mclean from the world she knew best and she is left to find a way to cope with the world she is left with. The personas help her to do that. She explains it perfectly, “all those clean, fresh starts had made me forget what is was like, until now, to be messy and honest and out of control. To be real.” (Page 237) She can find control in the uncontrollable and that helps her to survive.

She seems to just be killing time, waiting for a time when she can be herself again, or just know what it means to be herself. Mclean is not meant for the perceived perfection of the Peter Hamilton life but she needs more roots than her father’s life can giver her. Enter Dave Wade, the ever-surprising boy next door and her unlikely knight in somewhat nerdy armour. He saves her from the second time they meet and he continues to be a constant force in her life. She meets him at the perfect time, another fresh start but she is tired of being someone else and needs to get back to being a new version of the Mclean she was before the divorce, even if she doesn’t recognize that. She makes friends, makes plans, adapts and adeptly inserts herself into the lives around her. Still holding back but becoming bolder and bolder and more her real self. I love Dave Wade and the way he subtly incorporates Mclean into his life with very little pressure and a lot of honesty.

I really enjoy the character of her father Gus. There are very few strong father/daughter bonds in Sarah Dessen’s novels. Most of her parental interactions happen between the daughter and the mother or female figure. In What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean’s father is a huge part of the story. His job dictates their whereabouts, the people she interacts with, the projects she gets involved in and even her true identity. Deep down she is a daddy’s girl. They shared a love of basketball and she has a knack for organizing both their lives so he can be a restaurant consultant and she can stay with him. He has a big impact on her life in the past, present and possible future. Their relationship is refreshing and interesting to read. (Blogger note: I absolutely agree. I adored their father/daughter relationship.)

Mclean begins to want a beginning, middle and end while living in Lakeview, instead of just the clean slates she had been used to manipulating. Nothing had gone to plan but she still made friends and had a budding life without the fake persona she wanted to create. Since the divorce she had made sure to only have beginnings and never stay to the end. “(The beginning) was the part with all the promise, the potential, the things I loved. More and more though, I was finding myself wanting to find out what happened in the end.” (Page 279). Having constants in people or a place like Luna Blu help her to see what she had been missing in those other towns. She finds her real self, the basketball loving friendly girl she was always meant to be. Mclean discovers that she wants an end, or at least the chance to find out what happens after goodbye.

Next month
It's coming, friends. The final month of the Sarah Dessen (re)read challenge. The last book is Lock and Key. I don't remember a whole lot from this one so I'm really excited to reread it.

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