Review of Goodbye Stranger

stead_goodbye strangerstar2 Goodbye Stranger
by Rebecca Stead
Middle School   Lamb/Random   289 pp.
8/15   978-0-385-74317-4   $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-99098-4   $19.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-98085-4   $10.99

The main narrative in this new novel from the talented Stead (When You Reach Me, rev. 7/09) follows seventh-grader Bridget Barsamian, who nearly died in an accident when she was eight. A nurse’s comment that she “must have been put on this earth for a reason…to have survived” confounds her still; Bridge’s eventual, happy discovery of that reason is believable and moving. Stead’s intricately crafted story (so many connections, so much careful foreshadowing) explores various configurations of love and friendship, and the book’s two other narrative threads fittingly involve Valentine’s Day. In one, Bridge’s new friend Sherm writes (but doesn’t send) angry letters to his beloved grandfather, who has left Sherm’s grandmother and whose birthday is February fourteenth. The other, told in the second person and set entirely on that upcoming Valentine’s Day, follows an unnamed high schooler agonizing over her betrayal of a good friend in order to win points with a bad friend. (Readers will appreciate the cleverly dropped hints to her identity, whether they catch them the first or second time through.) Bridge’s narrative involves her longtime friendship with Tab and Emily, which suffers setbacks (but endures) as the girls find themselves at varying points on the interested-in-dating spectrum; feminism, mean girls, and platonic boy-girl friendships are just some of the issues raised. Much of the plot deals with some (underwear) selfies that go viral; opinions abound, but Bridge’s mom’s is the most compelling: “Your body is yours…Especially your body, Bridge. You earned it back.” The handing-down of advice and wisdom from older girls and women is a welcome theme throughout the book and far too rare in female coming-of-age stories; it’s just one of many reasons this astonishingly profound novel is not your average middle-school friendship tale.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Jennifer M. Brabander
Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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