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Goodbye Stranger

Posted on Sep 22, 2015

GOODBYESTRANGERRebecca Stead
(Andersen Press)

At age 8, Bridge was involved in a serious accident where she nearly died. Now she often feels a bit of an oddball, and despite  sticking together through thick and thin, promising never to fight, she and her friends Tab and Emily  are finding it harder and harder to keep that promise.
Sherm wants to make friends with Bridge but he too is hiding a secret and carrying sorrow in his heart.
The Valentine’s Day Mystery Girl is so deep into friendship troubles and betrayal, she has decided to skip school and hide for the day.
Three voices, three stories, all intertwined, all looking for an answer to the same question: who am I?

 

Rebecca Stead’s writing is like no other: delicate, astute, thoughtful, warm. The voices she creates are kind, quirky and individual yet speak for all of those on the verge of becoming teenagers. There are so many things that make Goodbye Stranger outstanding: how deeply we get to know each character, how Stead keeps us guessing to the very end about the webs that might link them together.
But it is her portrayal of how children, around 12, find themselves at the edge of two worlds, about to leave childhood for teenagehood, and how these two worlds collide with often an intensity that they find themselves unable to cope with, which is truly magnificent. They are desperate to be grown up, but somehow also desperate to hold on to some of the innocence of childhood. And in the case of our children today, this is enhanced a zillion times by growing up in a technologically advanced world where mistakes are not so easily forgotten and it is a little bit harder to be and find oneself. Goodbye Stranger raises some very important questions and highlights issues young teenagers face daily, whether it is issues around body image, individuality and bullying. Most importantly, I felt, was how it dealt so subtly yet effectively with the pressures and repercussions of sending potentially inappropriate pictures of oneself to others. This is a daily problem in our schools and while the issue remains fairly chaste in this book, in reality,  it can be, and it is, much much worse (you can read more about it on the NSPCC website or on this news item about a boy who has acquired a criminal record for sending an indecent picture of himself to a girl). Stead raises the issue with incredible sensitivity and this is why it works so well – a subtle warning, no preaching, no blaming, just showing children struggling with their emotions who might just make the wrong decisions.
Goodbye Stranger also has powerful empowering undertones for young girls, though this does in no way mean this is a “girls” book. It shows how strong female friendship and relationships can be yet how they can evolve, change and sometimes not survive. There is a mean girl, but her voice and actions are used to empower others rather than bring blame. Girls are so often portrayed at being at each other’s throats, it is refreshing to read a book where girls support each other , including through rough patches and mistakes.  I also loved the episode where Tab and Celeste’s mother fasts for a day as part of Karva Chauth, which shows that women showing devotion to their partners does not necessarily mean they are powerless or  inferior to their husbands. This again illustrates how eloquent Stead’s  narratives are:  nothing is every black or white, and she encourages her readers to make up their own minds about the situations she presents them with.

Finally Goodbye Stranger is about understanding and accepting oneself, accepting that we all change, which affects how we see people and how they see us. This is a powerful message for the targeted audience who find themselves embroiled in all sorts of emotional turmoil. Goodbye Stranger brings solace, kindness and a distinct message that messing up is part of the ride.

Simply glorious.

 

 

source: review copy from publisher

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