A couple years ago Marshmallow read and reviewed When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Today she reviews another book from the same author published in 2015: Goodbye Stranger.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, friendship, and mystery, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Bridge is an accident survivor. She has missed all of third grade, and had to learn how to live normally again. When she returned to school, her friend Tabitha (Tab) introduced her to Emily (Em), and the three of them became best friends, the set of fourth graders who drew animals in the corner of their homework. (Bridge draws a Martian, Tab draws a funny bird, and Em draws a spotted snake.)
They are now starting seventh grade and are in middle school. They are still best friends, but some things have changed. Em turned out to be really good at sports, and her body has started to change, which has attracted some attention. Tab is now a “know-it-all” and has become very interested in social action/change and feminism.
The three girls are best friends and they all follow one rule: no fighting. But they have encountered some difficulty with this rule since they started middle school. Bridge has become very good friends with a boy named Sherm. She has joined the Tech Crew with him. But she finds herself confused about how she feels about him. But the worst problem of all is Em’s. She has made a critical mistake, regarding a boy, and the repercussions threaten to tear the trio apart.
Different chapters of the book are told in different voices. In some chapters we read the letters Sherm writes to his grandfather. He never sends them though. Sherm’s grandfather left his family and ran off with some woman that is not Sherm’s grandmother. Sherm doesn’t think that he can forgive his grandfather for leaving them, ever. Sherm also has trouble identifying his feelings toward Bridge. Sherm writes down the events of the book in these letters, from his point of view, ending each letter with the amount of time left before his grandfather’s birthday, something they used to do before he left.
The third set of chapters is written in the voice of an unknown highschooler (who knows the previous characters mentioned). This particular person is having big problems with her friends, specifically Vinny. Vinny is pretty, smart, and popular, and the unknown highschooler used to be best friends with her, until she (the anonymous highschooler) finally realized how cruel she was. Vinny likes to play a “tasting game” where she blindfolds a person and feeds them something. If she likes you, she gives you a banana or something. If she doesn’t like you, she gives you a spoon of black pepper. The unknown student brings another girl, named Gina, to meet Vinny, and Vinny feeds her pepper during the game. The unknown teenager struggles to understand whether the Vinny she knew when she was younger is still there, under the cruelty.
Marshmallow’s Review: Goodbye Stranger is a good book. I found it interesting that the name of the anonymous highschooler is unknown until the end, and that it turns out to be someone who has been there since the beginning. I didn’t guess who it was at all. As I said before, the book is told from multiple perspectives: Bridge, Sherm, and the unknown girl. I think that this made it more interesting. And the three voices are quite different from one another. All of Sherm’s chapters are in the form of letters written to a grandfather, while Bridge’s chapters are narrated in the third person. The unknown highschooler chapters, on the other hand, keep using “you”, which leaves a totally different flavor in the end.
I think that Goodbye Stranger is probably better for middle schoolers and up. There are some things that might be confusing for younger children. For example, I think Caramel might not understand all of the plot.
One minor thing I felt was not perhaps ideal was the way the most idealistic of the three girls, Tab, was treated, both by others in the book and by the author, too, in the end. I think Tab was perhaps a bit too naive and perhaps a bit too strong with her passion for an equitable and just world, but I think those are valuable things to hope and work for, and I did not appreciate that she was too often dismissed and not taken seriously.
Overall though, I think that the author, Rebecca Stead, did a great job with this book. The characters are unique and realistic, and also very understandable. Rebecca Stead also wrote When You Reach Me, which I reviewed before. I did like that book a lot, too, but I think that Goodbye Stranger is even better.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.