Debbie's Reviews > How to Say Goodbye in Robot

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
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's review
Jan 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-teen
Read in January, 2012

This is my first favorite new read of 2012.

Beatrice has just moved with her parents to Baltimore, where her father will be a professor at Johns Hopkins, her mother will stay home and act more and more oddly, and Bea will attend a private school with only 40 students in her senior class. Thanks to alphabetical chance, Bea Szabo is seated next to Jonah Tate, the boy that her classmates treat like a ghost. Bea tries to be friendly to him, and Jonah introduces her to a late-night call-in radio show, thus beginning a strong, unconventional friendship. Bea and Jonah are more interested in meeting the callers to the radio show (one of whom is from the future, another of whom is holding out hope that Elvis will come back to life and to her) and taking a secret trip to Ocean City than in hanging out with their classmates at repeated parties or going to prom. Trying not to be too spoilery here - Jonah discovers something about his past that his father has been hiding from him, and Bea willingly helps him try to sneak around his father to fix it. But it gets too big for Jonah, and even Bea can't help him.

Reading about Bea and Jonah made me think about how conventional I am (something I don't tend to dwell on). Before the move Baltimore, Bea and her mother used to spend their time together dressing up in elaborate costumes and recreating scenes from old movies that Bea would photograph. She and Jonah don't want to go to prom because it just isn't their thing, and they can come up with something to do they'd enjoy so much more. I didn't go to prom either, but if I had, it would have been a big deal to me. If they (Jonah in particular) had gone, they would have been more than bored.

I liked Bea. She seems to be comfortable with herself. She is willing to help Jonah with his risky plans, but she is also more grounded than her mother. She tries to be nice to her classmates but isn't at all concerned with getting the popular ones to like her. Her narrative was easy to read with some humor to leaven the heavy parts.
Experience told me that not many guys were into flat-chested sticks with big round lollipop heads and stringy hair, unless by some miracle that was the regional definition of cute. If so, I hadn't come across that particular region. Mom kept telling me I had to grow into my face, but I knew a euphemism when I heard one.

Jonah, meanwhile, broke my heart. He is a very good friend to Bea, often thoughtful and caring. But when he gets into his trouble, he withdraws into the ghost-like boy he had been before Bea moved in. My staid adult self recognizes that my teenage self would have related to Jonah (not that I had to deal with anything like what he has to). Bea's mother says:
"Jonah always struck me as kind of, I don't know, insubstantial."
"You're wrong," I said. "He has substance. It just flickers off and on."
"Reminds me of somebody else we both know," Mom said. I think she was talking about Dad but, frankly, it could have been anybody.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is a moving book about a relationship that is more than friendship, more than romance, but in the end is unable be saved by just one person or even by the real love of both people.

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