Ms. Yingling's Reviews > Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
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it was ok

E ARC from Netgalley.com

Bridge, Tabitha, and Emily have been friends for a long time, but 7th grade is testing their friendship, as it does for many people. Em has developed more quickly, and has captured the attention of an 8th grade boy, who wants her to send him pictures. Tab is interested in their teacher's feminist views. Bridge, for some reason, has started to wear cat ears on her head. She's struggling with her French class and still trying to make sense of why she wasn't killed in an accident when she was 8. She skated in front of a car and was gravely injured, but someone told her that she must have been saved for a reason. She just doesn't know what that is. She makes friends with Sherm, a boy whose grandfather has left his grandmother after 50 years of marriage, something he just doesn't understand. The two work on the tech crew for the talent show together, and everyone thinks they "like like" each other. After Emily makes the very poor choice of sending Patrick a picture of herself wearing jeans and a black, lacy bra, there is a lot of drama over how the picture got sent around, and more drama when a picture of Patrick in his underwear gets posted to his account. Em struggles with being the "bad" girl, while her friends wonder what they could have done to stop her.

In alternating chapters, set several months in the future (the main action takes place from the beginning of school past Halloween; these chapters take place on Valentine's Day), we get an account, in second person, from a girl whose friends Vinny, Gina and Zoe have all changed, with Vinny being especially mean. The girl runs away and spends the day with Adrienne at the Bean Bar, a coffee shop owned by Bridge's family.
Strengths: This did have a nicely multicultural cast-- Bridge's father is Armenian, and Tabitha Patel's parents are Hindu. Sherm's grandfather is Italian. The New York City setting is very lovingly done. The episode with Em's picture is worthy of an entire book (something like Vail's Unfriended), because even though librarians deliver Internet Safety talks, apparently students still don't listen, and the ramifications can be terrible.
Weaknesses: The plot was slow moving and confusing, and the Valentine's Day entries in the second person made me think that I must have missed something somewhere.
What I really think: Since my students don't read When You Reach Me or Liar & Spy, I don't think I will purchase this title.

Here's the thing: I'm not a sophisticated reader. I don't read adult fiction; I really dislike anything "literary". I want a good story, with likable characters, a lot of action, and a plot that moves quickly and is easy to understand. I like to think that this makes me more in tune with the sort of books that my students most frequently request.

But I don't think I'm stupid, or a poor reader. So when I come across a book that is so hard to understand that I have to take notes and I still don't know quite what went on, I worry about whether my students will understand it. When it takes me 4 hours to read a 300 page book because I keep finding that trimming my toenails or putting laundry away or reorganizing the pantry is more interesting, I question whether or not I should spend the money to buy it for my students.

At the same time, when I find myself deeply engrossed in the state of my cuticles because the book is lyrical and deep and gorgeously written, I know that everyone else who posts reviews will love the book. And I wonder, just a little, why I don't like this sort of book as much as other bloggers and librarians do.

So here are my thoughts. Read the book for yourself, check out all of the reviews of Goodreads.com, especially the one by Betsy Bird. (http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production...) Go ahead. Just read that review. It's hosted at School Library Journal, after all. I'm just going to go sob gently into my cardigan sleeve and reread Lenora Mattingly Weber's A New and Different Summer for the 20th time while feeling vaguely inadequate and unpopular.
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Reading Progress

January 25, 2015 – Shelved
January 25, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
May 31, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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Monica Edinger I truly appreciate your honesty here.


message 2: by Miss (new)

Miss Kelly I loved reading this. There are a lot of books that get glowing reviews that my kids (and I) just don't love. Luckily, there are so many others that we do.


message 3: by Becky (new) - added it

Becky B Thanks for this honest review. I found it very helpful. I feel like there's a whole hidden genre of "kids books" that are really written for adults who read/review kids books and the actual kids won't touch them with a ten foot pole unless it's assigned reading. My students also haven't touched any of Stead's books so I will probably be following your lead and not buying this for my library either unless I get a request for it; I'd rather spend money on stuff they will read.


Earl When I first saw your rating, I thought you were being harsh but I completely agree and appreciate your review. I just finished it and am still thinking about how best to describe this book.


message 5: by Leigh (new)

Leigh Collazo What's interesting is that though my USA students didn't read Stead's books, they are crazy-popular with my international students here in China. I had a group of girls requesting Goodbye Stranger before I had even heard of it. Weird, eh?


message 6: by Allison (new)

Allison I haven't read this yet. But, had to say, my students LOVE Stead. Especially When You Reach Me and First Light.


Betsy I appreciate the link, myself. And I sympathize. To be perfectly frank, I probably don't read YA literature for the very reasons you've listed here.


Keith Don't feel bad about not liking this book. I felt the exact same way. There were too many stories being told together that really had nothing to do with each other which just led to confusion and me not caring about any of them.


Nancy Kotkin Don't feel bad. I read lots of adult literary fiction and I'm always looking for more literary MG and YA. But this one really missed the mark. The author seems to have overextended her ability and the result is a jumbled mess.


message 10: by Joelle (new)

Joelle Anthony As a writer who feels the same way as you, and one whose books are more like what you like to read, I'm happy to see this review. I'm actually a fan of Stead's other books, but with this one I felt the same way. It's beautifully written, but what is there for kids to grab onto? I didn't actually finish, but I read a lot of it. I sometimes worry about the great books for kids that kids don't really care about...I worry writers are writing for teachers and librarians instead of kids.


Nancy Kotkin I sometimes wonder if children's writers are writing for the award committees, rather than the kids. Goodbye Stranger is such a character-focused book with so little plot (other than the sexting which is not appropriate for, or interesting to, 9-10 yr old readers), but this book is a favorite to win the Newbery this year. I agree with Joelle above - what is there in here for kids to grab onto?


message 12: by Joelle (new)

Joelle Anthony Nancy wrote: "I sometimes wonder if children's writers are writing for the award committees, rather than the kids. Goodbye Stranger is such a character-focused book with so little plot (other than the sexting wh..."

It's interesting how different the winners are of reader's choice awards vs the ones given out by adults!


Emily Smith I was glad to read this review. I am a children's librarian and when I read a book, I try to imagine how my kiddos would react. I felt confused often...and personally think this should be a middle grade novel based on the content.


Deborah I loved it, and I'm so glad there are complex, character-based middle-grade novels. I know most kids in middle school aren't into them, but they meet a need, for us (okay, I'm middle-aged now, but I was an atypical seventh grader and would have loved Rebecca Stead then). there are so many books for kids who like mainstream YA, and plenty for reluctant readers - why not have some for kids who like literary children's books?


Deborah Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with not liking it. obviously it's not everyone's cup of tea. but if you are a middle school Librarian, think of the atypical kids who like literature, and get it for them!


Carin Newsome I loved it. And while I don't know my new students well enough to know who w I'll like it, I can think of quite a few of my students from last year


Carin Newsome Sorry, hit "post" accidentally while editing my comment. Anyway, I think this is a great book for many sixth and seventh graders, especially those of whom are a bit more than plot junkies. I'm definitely adding it to my classroom library. Btw, Rebecca Stead is very popular with my students. Many come from fifth grade loving her.


Christine My Australian students from Year 6 to Year 9 (11 years - 15 years) are big fans of Rebecca Stead. I struggled a little with this story and didn't enjoy it as much as When you Reach Me but it's already proving popular with the students.


Margaret You are not alone!


Melissa Milner I appreciate your honesty. My concern is that you are holding back a book that can make a difference for some students because you didn't like it or understand it. As a fifth grade teacher, I struggle with this constantly. I found When You Reach Me confusing at times and reread to make sure I was't missing something. As an adult reader, I do that, when do our students learn that if we don't provide the chance?? My bigger concerns are that this book is a super fine line to recommend to my fifth graders, still on the innocent side. I am halfway through the book and think it is a book that I will get parent confirmation before letting a student read it. Did the same with Hunger Games. Many of my fifth graders saw the movies and want to read the books. Up to the parents in my opinion. I tell them to check out Goodreads and Common Sense Media and let me know if their child can read it.


Melissa Milner I appreciate your honesty. My concern is that you are holding back a book that can make a difference for some students because you didn't like it or understand it. As a fifth grade teacher, I struggle with this constantly. I found When You Reach Me confusing at times and reread to make sure I was't missing something. As an adult reader, I do that, when do our students learn that if we don't provide the chance?? My bigger concerns are that this book is a super fine line to recommend to my fifth graders, still on the innocent side. I am halfway through the book and think it is a book that I will get parent confirmation before letting a student read it. Did the same with Hunger Games. Many of my fifth graders saw the movies and want to read the books. Up to the parents in my opinion. I tell them to check out Goodreads and Common Sense Media and let me know if their child can read it.


Melissa Milner Oops. Posted twice by accident. New to this format. How do I delete repeated post? :-)


message 23: by Yaz (new)

Yaz I think she wears the ears kind of the feel more like a younger child again, but maybe that's just me.


message 24: by Prama (new) - added it

Prama Hi, I have a question to you, and I apologize beforehand that it doesn't really have anything to do with this book.
In this review you seem to say that taking 4 hours to read 300 pages is slow reading. Now, English is not my first language and I've only recently recovered from a very bad and very long reader's block, so to me it sounds like super fast reading.
My question is - and I'm just curious! - what's your normal reading speed like with a book that you're enjoying?


Renee Mihulka Never apologize for not liking it not 'getting' a book. Your opinion is your own and it's valid even if it's not the 'popular' view (actually probably more so!). I think that whether we really enjoy a book depends on so much more than just the story and writing. I know that I have read a book and loved it then re read and thought 'eh? How did I like that?' And also vice versa (but less often). The beauty of books is that no matter who you are, there is a book out there that will make YOUR own heart sing and it might not be popular. But having said that Rebecca Stead is one of my favourite authors and I loved his book!


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