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Goodbye Stranger | Class #6, 2016

stead_goodbye strangerStead seems to really get this age group, changing relationships, and the time when the wrong move can seem like the end of the world. How does she balance the drama of this experience with respect and care for her characters and readers?

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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  1. Debra C. says:

    This was my first time reading Stead and surely won’t be my last. At first, I was a bit uneasy meeting the main character just as she experiences a devastating accident. Car accidents such as this is any parent’s worst nightmare. The rest of the novel, however, is not at all as jarring as the start. Stead allows you to settle in comfortably with Bridge, Tab, Em, Sherm, and even the mysterious Valentine’s day character. Having reread Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret at the start of the course, I couldn’t help but see some of the young adolescent similarities, especially how the three best friends had a special pact, including the no fights. Blume’s characters had similar expectations of one another. The characters in Goodbye Stranger’s adolescent curiosities begin to explode and search for some autonomy moves them, you see the character’s grow and make mistakes, yet they remain incredibly loyal to one another. Tab’s moment of “revenge” is admirable. I appreciate Stead’s development of a setting in contemporary public school in NYC and how believable the interactions and daily moments between these friends were. I also admire how she weaves the past into the present, and how Bridge begins to see her purpose on this earth more deeply through the help of her friends and her brother. I can’t wait to recommend this novel to my soon to be 7th graders, as well as begin When You Reach Me for myself.

  2. Naomi Forman says:

    I appreciated how much Rebecca Stead really seems to know what it feels like to be in middle school, as you mention in the prompt. While it is true that many ostensibly small events in this book are depicted as dramatic, the book seems to understand that to a young person, such events truly ARE dramatic. It can feel traumatic, for instance, when a friend betrays your trust or when your crush finds out you like him/her, and it can feel intensely romantic when you hold hands with a boy or girl you like for the first time.

    I also found that the author respected her readers and characters in another way. At the beginning, I was worried that this book would turn into another indictment of middle school girl drama and middle school “queen bees,” along with so many contemporary books and movies that showcase how horrible girls can act toward each other. While there were certainly cruel moments and characters in this story, though, I appreciated that ultimately, this book is a celebration of friendship – particularly female friendship. It reminds us that even though young girls have the potential to really hurt each other, and often do, they also have the potential to love and care for each other. It’s this kind of friendship and caring that helps so many endure the challenges that come with growing up.

  3. Hannah Flint says:

    I love Naomi’s description of the book as a celebration of friendship. Stead does such a beautiful job exploring how friendships change during adolescence. She really gets at how relationships that once seemed rock solid and everlasting can suddenly feel unsteady. I also loved the way she explores how difficult it is do the right thing, particularly when it isn’t so easy to figure out what the right thing is. This book has such a sense of yearning and doesn’t pretend to provide easy answers. At the same time, it is hopeful. All the relationships do, essentially resolve themselves and she gives us what we want for Bridge and Sherm. While I found it a bit unrealistic that everyone does find a way to negotiate their best friendships – I don’t think any friendships really end – I don’t think I mind because I think so often adolescents are presented with such destructive narratives of adolescent friendship. The view in Goodbye Stranger might be a little rosy, but I’ll take it.

  4. Sophie Blumert says:

    Reading this book I’m sure felt very familiar to all of us, since we’ve all been through a period of middle school drama. During a time when technology has such a huge impact on friendships, I really liked the way that Stead handled the picture sharing drama – it felt like a cautionary tale in two ways, in that it’s very easy for a photo to go viral, but that it’s not the end of the world when this happens. I also appreciated that the friendship between Bridge, Tab, and Em remained intact, even when they released each other from their pact of not fighting. They grew over the year and began to understand that friends will get mad at each other and fight sometimes, but that it is not an indication that the friendship should end. They are such different characters, and Stead allows them to accept each others differences rather than be pulled apart by them.

  5. Carla Cevallos says:

    Goodbye Stranger is simply… it’s own kind of book. What a beautiful portrait of adolescence in all its splendor! The characters’ conversations and jokes stole several smiles from me, making their teenage selves very real in my head and heart. This book is a fun cocktail of many typical teenage experiences while at the same time it somehow avoids falling into clichés. Moreover, I loved that these experiences and events were naturally embedded in a bigger plot, and not only told for the sake of the events themselves.

    The slight element of mystery regarding the identity of the second person narrator adds an interesting taste to the story. I don’t know if this would happen for students as well, but I found myself paying particular attention to small details while trying to figure out who that person was (i.e. the waitress who calls her French Fries is the same that calls Bridge Cinnamon Toast).

    At the beginning, I had a little trouble with the first transition from the comfort and familiarity of the third person narrator to the unexpected second person narration. I think I had never read anything written in second person, and the experience was interesting, but it took a little getting used to. The feeling was different from a first person narrative because it added an additional element of self-awareness that made the presense inside someone else’s head even more intense, though a little less natural. The in-between letters from Sher to his grandfather added yet another voice that was a refreshing break from the other two.

  6. Kate Cunningham says:

    I have been an unabashed fan of Rebecca Stead since reading “When You Reach Me” with 6th graders a few years ago. She visited our school that year so we were lucky enough to hear her speak about her writing process, which I think is relevant because much of what she shared still applies when thinking about how she shows care to her characters and readers in “Goodbye Stranger.” In my opinion, there are an incredible number of ways that she shows this respect and care in her writing, but I will highlight 2 that are seemingly simple but also, in my experience, rare in books written for early middle schoolers.
    Having grown up in NYC, Stead purposely incorporates the city into her novels. She often has a particular school or bodega or coffee shop in mind when she writes, even if she changes the names. I think her attention to the setting and making the scope of teenagers’ daily travels realistic is one way she cares for readers, because these details are real and authentic and relatable. As a New Yorker, I especially loved reading small details that resonated with me, such as Jamie traveling 90 minutes by subway to his selective high school. For those who have not lived there, I think these details show that Stead assumes they can still understand that and she doesn’t need to “dumb down” the setting. By authentically depicting the setting that her characters inhabit, Stead shows respect to both them and her readers.
    Stead also shared that she feels it’s important to explore multiple dimensions of her characters and show that no one is ever just one thing – we all have complex, changing identities. This shows care for her characters, but also her readers, by believing they can manage multiple characters and perspectives. I’ve also noticed that Stead incorporates more characters than other novelists might, especially those writing for 5th/6th grade. By doing this, she is depicting a real adolescent landscape – we don’t just have our 2 best friends and our family, we also have our friends’ families, friends of friends, our neighbors, and teachers, and people that work at coffee shops. I think this more closely reflects the real lives of adolescents.

  7. Kate Palleschi says:

    Naomi has already hit on the aspect of Goodbye Stranger that I loved the most – the celebration of female friendships. The older I get, the more it becomes clear that we’re conditioned from childhood to view other women as competitors instead of supporters, and there are few things that make me angrier than story lines that continue that, so Stead’s refusal to allow that to be the only story about young female relationships is important to me. I think that is indicative of , as Lauren described it, the “respect and care for her characters and readers” and is something that makes Goodbye Stranger a text I would love to recommend to students.

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