Summer's Reviews > What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
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3.5 Stars, Reread May 18, 2017

Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.

For the past two years Mclean Sweet and her divorced father have been moving from town to town as he is a restaurant consultant. With each move Mclean sees it as a chance to reinvent herself and take up a different persona. As Liz, Eliza, and Beth she’s been many girls from preppy cheerleader to drama diva. But when Mclean and her father make a stop at Lakeview, she’s finds herself as just Mclean. But who is the real Mclean? After being separated from her true identity for so long, Mclean isn’t sure who she really is anymore. With What Happened to Goodbye Sarah Dessen weaves yet another story about youth and self discovery.

Outside, the ocean was crashing, waves hitting sand, then pulling back to sea. I thought of everything being washed away, again and again. We make such messes in this life, both accidentally and on purpose. But wiping the surface clean doesn’t really make anything neater. It just masks what is below. It’s only when you really dig down deep, go underground, that you can see who you really are.

Of the books that I’ve read so far by Dessen, I think this one tackles the theme of identity the best. Mainly because I was 100% for the concept behind Mclean’s character.

As a loyal fan of Dessen’s work, I admit that her books can be formulaic and her female protagonists similiar. But, because of the very fact that Mclean adopts different personas really made her stand out among other Dessen heroines or YA heroines in general to me. And the moment of reveal when her peers and friends discover this secret of hers is shocking and impactful.

But in the real world, you couldnt really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.

There are definitely always a lot of conflicting emotions coupled with decisions of separation and divorce for the parties involved, especially if there is the variable of children in the mix, too. As much as it sucks, separation does affect the kids in the family. (But ultimately it’s about thinking whether it’s healthier for all for the two to stay together or be apart.) With this book Sarah Dessen captures how a teenager feels over his/her parents’ separation/divorce perfectly.

Mclean displays the need of having to side with one parent (in her case her father); personally, I view this is a realistic portrayal of a young teen who is trying to deal with her parents’ divorce. And as someone that was raised by a single dad and has always had a bad relationship with my own mom, I could sympathize and understand Mclean actions even if it seemed impulsive and dramatic. The way she reacts to her mother’s betrayal isn’t at all unreasonable.

And in the entire plot with the Sweets, I appreciated Dave’s role and involvement in helping Mclean and her parents. Near the end, I really liked that he was able to identify the moment between Mclean and her parents and let them be.

While on the subject of Mclean’s parents and Dave… This may be an unpopular opinion but I actually interpreted What Happened to Goodbye more of a story about family than a romance.

He thought about this for a second. “True. But if you never really make friends, you probably don’t have anyone to be your 2 a.m. Which would kind of suck.
I just looked at him as he stirred his soup, carrots spinning in the liquid. “Your what?”
“Two a.m.” He swallowed, then said, “You know. The person you can call at two a.m. and, no matter what, you can count on them. Even if they’re asleep or it’s cold or you need to be bailed out of jail…they’ll come for you. It’s, like, the highest level of friendship.”

I mean, there’s still a romance and there are plenty of unconventionally romantic moments. (This time the heroine is moved by receiving a bottle of thyme instead of a bouquet flowers. A bottle of thyme! This is, again, the power of Dessen making mundane moments work.)

“So,” he said as we turned onto the main road, the muffler rattling, “I’ve been thinking.”
He nodded. “You really need to go out with me.”
I blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“You know. You, me. A restaurant or movie. Together.” He glanced over, shifting gears. “Maybe it’s a new concept for you? If so, I’ll be happy to walk you through it.”
“You want to take me to a movie?” I asked.
“Well, not really,” he said. “What I really want is for you to be my girlfriend. But I thought saying that might scare you off.”

But, throughout (re)reading this, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the main couple. I like Mclean and Dave individually but I’m not sure if I liked having them together as a pair. Cute as they were and as much as I felt like they understood each other well for such a short period of time, I wasn’t quite convinced of their chemistry romantically. I actually think I would have preferred Dave and Mclean more as just friends, which was also probably why I subconsciously thought that the romance took more of the backseat compared the family plot now that I think about it. Rarely do I feel this way about Dessen romances but this one didn’t quite build up as smoothly or great as the others by her, in my opinion. Which is why I’ve decided to downrate What Happened to Goodbye from 4 stars (what I originally rated this the first time I read it many years ago) to 3.5 stars.

Suddenly, I was just sure he was going to kiss me. He was there, I could feel his breath, the ground solid beneath us. But then something crossed his face, a thought, a hesitation, and he shifted slightly. Not now. Not yet. It was something I’d done so often-weighing what I could afford to risk, right at that moment-that I recognized it instantly. It was like looking in a mirror.

However, to my delight, I did catch something (good) about this couple with this reread. Dave and Mclean could be considered as subtle character foils. In the sense that Mclean has always been anyone but herself and she’s reluctant to face who she truly is. While Dave, from since his childhood, has liked the idea of himself changing. He has no trouble accepting who he is and welcomes the person he becomes, including if that means breaking away from his parents’ expectations and boundaries.

So to conclude, mainly because of the romance, What Happened to Goodbye isn’t one of my favorites by Sarah Dessen, but it’s undeniable that the story still possesses a charm that is uniquely Dessen-esque. The cast of characters are relatable and special enough for young teenagers to connect with them easily, and there are a myriad of quotable lines and scenes. This wasn’t like Dessen’s more iconic work such as The Truth About Forever , Just Listen , This Lullaby , and my personal underrated favorite, Along for the Ride , but I do think it’s worth reading for Dessen fans or those that have already read the four previously mentioned.


Quotes were taken from a finished review copy.


Thank you Penguin Random House for the finished review copy of What Happened to Goodbye, as well as inviting and allowing me to participate in the 2017 #ReadADessen blog tour. #PRHPartner


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Reading Progress

January 21, 2013 – Shelved
Started Reading
May 18, 2017 – Finished Reading

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