I wrote this book review for a class in March 2020.
By Rebecca Stead
Hardcover, 287 pages, $16.99
I had high expectations for a novel with “Newbery Medal Winner” above the author’s name on the cover. Rebecca Stead’s three previous books have all received some sort of award or recognition, so I thought 'Goodbye Stranger' would be enjoyable. I was utterly wrong.
The book follows Bridge and her friends Tabitha and Emily as they start seventh grade. Emily’s body is maturing faster than others, so she has caught the attention of a boy who wants “a certain kind of picture.” As an accident survivor, Bridge tries to find where she belongs at school and in life, in general.
The three friends have one rule: no fighting. Whenever they are upset with one another, they don’t talk about it; they simply “put a pin in it” and let the negative emotions boil and fester internally until they explode. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at the characters’ foolishness because I knew how things would turn out when they made decisions before thinking them through.
The end of the synopsis inside the cover says, “From the author of 'When You Reach Me' and 'Liar & Spy' comes this captivating story about the bonds—and limits—of friendship.” This book wasn’t captivating at all. It lost me on page 10.
The novel starts in September. Then the second chapter jumps to Valentine’s Day and switches to second person. It was jarring and confusing because there was no connection to Bridge, Tabitha and Emily; the characters had different names and I was trying to figure who the “you” was and what she had to do with the main plotline.
As time moves forward for Bridge and her friends, the chapters that use second person are all titled Valentine’s Day and interrupt the main story about every other chapter. There isn’t any connection between the two stories until page 104, and it is a very slight connection, especially when Bridge is still in October.
Aside from the shocking perspective changes, I couldn’t engage with the book because I did not like Emily or Tabitha. The dynamics of the friendship weren’t healthy because they never let each other express their emotions. Tabitha was annoying and Emily was someone I’d never be friends with because she acted like she was better than everyone around her.
Only Bridge's thoughts really made sense to me. Emily’s and Tabitha’s parents were honestly more interesting than they were. Maybe I could have related to them more if I was in seventh grade. I did, however, appreciate the authenticity of the angst of middle school and of puberty.
The title and cover doesn’t make any sense when thinking about the book as a whole. It shows Bridge having breakfast with her friend Sherm, a scene that has very little to do with the main conflict. The only reference to the title happens on page 213, which again has almost nothing to do with the main story.
It seems Stead used up her good writing on her three previous books. I wouldn’t have finished this one if I wasn’t writing this review. At least I bought it at Dollar Tree, so I only wasted one dollar.
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