What Happened to Goodbye
Let's talk about the rough and tumble teenage years—something that bestselling author Sarah Dessen has a lot of experience writing about. In What Happened to Goodbye, published in 2011, Sarah Dessen once again brings readers back to Lakeview (a fictional all-American town where many of her other novels are set, including Just Listen and The Truth About Forever) to explore the angst-filled life of another teenager.
You might think that Mclean Sweet has a pretty sweet life (pun totally intended). She gets to travel a lot, moving from one place to another with her dad; plus, her mom's married to a famous college basketball coach, and she's just landed in a town where her next door neighbor is a super cute boy.
What could possibly be wrong with this picture? As it turns out, a lot.
Still reeling from the impact of her mother's infidelity and her parents' divorce, Mclean has a hard time getting along with her mom (even from afar), and an even harder time getting close to new people—especially because she's always moving. When she and her dad land in Lakeview, she's pretty sure that it will go the same way that it has in her last four moves. She'll take on a new name and persona, get through school without getting close to anyone, and just wait for the day when she moves again.
But that's not what happens in Lakeview. Instead, Mclean starts to crack when it comes to her carefully crafted personas, and ends up revealing her true self. And once she does, her human connections start to snowball: she starts talking to her mom again, making new friends, and even maybe developing a relationship with the aforementioned dreamboat next door.
What Happened to Goodbye is a book about finding yourself—and learning that you can't take that journey alone. Even though Mclean starts off believing that she's completely self-sufficient (and can live like a survivalist out of a single suitcase), she slowly discovers that it's not so bad to rely on other people. In fact, other people can really make all the difference when it comes to personal happiness and fulfillment. Go figure.
Why Should I Care?
Talk about an identity crisis. Mclean, the protagonist of What Happened to Goodbye, changes her entire identity every time she switches towns and schools. Whenever she moves, it's a chance to start over as someone completely different… even if that someone doesn't actually represent who she really is. With so much turmoil over identity, this novel resonates with anyone who's had a tough time figuring out who they are and who they want to be—which, last time we checked, includes most of us.
Everyone explores identity at some point, although maybe not to the extent that Mclean does. You may not go from New York chic to peppy student body do-it-all from one day to the next (like Mclean does when she switches schools), but you still probably ask yourself the same sorts of questions that she does when trying on new facets of your identity. Will this make people like me more? What will I look like to the rest of the world? Do I feel comfortable taking on this identity as my own?
Watching someone like Mclean journey to find her true identity reminds us that we're not alone in our struggles to figure out who we are. It also serves as a warning—crafting elaborate personas that aren't based on truth takes a real toll on a person, which Mclean makes abundantly clear. It's only when she's brave enough to start being her true self in the world that she is able to achieve happiness and connections with the people around her. And though it's hard work, one thing's abundantly clear as the book ends:
It's totally worth it.