Study Guide

What Happened to Goodbye Themes

  • Family

    Things are not exactly running smoothly for Mclean's family in What Happened to Goodbye. Her parents split up after her mom ran off with Peter Hamilton (the Defreise head coach), and Mclean's resolved to take her dad's side in everything—even if it means never seeing or talking to her mom again (if she can help it). Things are bad enough so that her mom keeps calling in the lawyers to revisit their custody agreement, just so she can see Mclean more.

    Post-divorce, Mclean just doesn't know how to relate to her mother anymore, and it's going to be a difficult journey before they can reach some kind of familial peace.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why doesn't Mclean want to hang out with her mom and the twins?
    2. How are Dave's parents different than Mclean's? How are they similar?
    3. Why does Mclean feel so much loyalty toward her dad?

    Chew on This

    Her parents' divorce has forced Mclean to take the role of her father's caretaker instead of his child. It is only when she runs away that her parents realize that it's their job to take care of her—instead of the other way around.

    Although Dave often resents his parents for being too hard on him, they're not actually trying to be punitive—they are just trying to understand his motives and come to terms with him growing up.

  • The Home

    The age-old idiom states that home is where the heart is, but that's hard when you don't have a real place to call home like Mclean in What Happened to Goodbye. She's moved around so much with her dad that each town is just a new place for them to rest for a little bit, without putting down serious roots or getting emotionally entangled in any way. When they land in Lakeview though, Mclean starts to see it as home—which is complicated because her dad's job requires them to move constantly. What's going to happen? Is this girl finally going to put down some roots?

    Questions About The Home

    1. Is Tyler really home for Mclean?
    2. Why does Mclean go to the Poseidon when she runs away from the beach house? 
    3. How does Mclean's idea of home change when she comes to Lakeview?

    Chew on This

    Even though her mom tries to get her to come to Tyler all the time, Mclean no longer feels like she has a home there because she doesn't have the same emotional and interpersonal connections to the place that she once did.

    Mclean ends up feeling most at home in Lakeview because she's developed close friendships and ties to the community—even if her parents aren't there with her.

  • Identity

    Mclean (otherwise known as Lizbet, Eliza, Liz, and Beth) has a habit of creating new identities for herself every time she moves in What Happened to Goodbye. In Lakeview though, when she starts to figure out her identity, this time it's really based on who she is inside. What a concept, right?

    But she's not the only one trying to figure out who she is in this book. Her mother is going through the same thing with her new identity as a rich basketball coach's wife, and her hunky next door neighbor, Dave, is trying to let go of his super academic brainiac reputation and just live life like a normal kid. So though McLean feels isolated because she doesn't know who she is, the reality is that she's surrounded by people struggling with the same questions.

    Questions About Identity

    1. What's the deal with Mclean changing her whole persona (and name) every time she comes to a new town?
    2. How does Dave's identity shift when he starts going to public school? Do you think he's being fake by choosing new interests and friends?
    3. How has Mclean's mom changed since she married Peter Hamilton?
    4. What's the significance of Mclean going by her real name while she lives in Lakeview?

    Chew on This

    By going by her real name in Lakeview, Mclean allows other people to see her for who she really is—instead of as a fake persona that she creates—and in doing so, she gets to glimpse her real identity herself.

    Dave may be going through some changes in his identity as an adolescent, but he's never deceitful about it in the same way that Mclean is. He's not trying to hide his true self from anyone—he's just trying to figure out who he really is beyond the influence of his parents.

  • Abandonment

    Although Mclean's mom doesn't technically abandon her in What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean still feels the sting of betrayal and isolation. As far as she's concerned, when her mom cheated on her beloved pops, she pretty much shoved both of them out of her life—and now she has this fancy, shiny new life with a new rich husband and some new kids. Where's Mclean supposed to fit into that picture?

    But her mom's not the only one who's leaving people in her wake; Mclean and her dad do the same to others whenever they move. They make friends—and start relationships—knowing that they'll have to (or choose to) end them when they move on again. In other words, when it comes to the Sweet family, there're a whole lot of people left in the dust.

    Questions About Abandonment

    1. How does constantly leaving behind different towns and friends affect both Mclean and her dad?
    2. Why does Mclean feel so betrayed by her mom?
    3. Why don't Mclean and her dad say goodbye to people when they leave a place?
    4. How does Mclean feel about her mom marrying Peter Hamilton and having his babies?

    Chew on This

    Mclean abandons place after place without warning in order to mirror the trauma that her mom inflicted on her by leaving the family without warning.

    Even though Mclean feels betrayed and abandoned by her mother, she still is there to provide support for her daughter.

  • Friendship

    Let's talk about BFFs, shall we? In What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean has pretty much given up on the concept of friends—let alone best friends. As she tells Dave, she doesn't have the kind of friend that she can call at 2:00AM no matter what—her life just isn't configured that way right now. Instead she makes surface-level acquaintances when she moves into a town… and then leaves them behind when she moves onto the next place.

    But in Lakeview, Mclean makes real friends and finds them indispensable. She starts to form serious connections with Dave, Deb, and Riley… and finds that it's not so bad after all.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why does Mclean decide to befriend Deb even though she's an outcast and a weirdo?
    2. Are Mclean's friends in Lakeview just like the friends she made in all the other towns she lived in? Why or why not?
    3. How does Dave turn into Mclean's 2:00AM by the end of the novel? Do you think that he would really do anything for her?

    Chew on This

    Mclean sets out to make as few connections as possible when she moves to Lakeview, but soon she's as inextricably a part of the community as her friends.

    Even though Mclean initially doesn't want to get close to Dave, she eventually comes to rely on him as one of her best friends—and this allows her to finally feel at home in a new place.

  • Marriage

    In What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean Sweet is pretty jaded to the whole idea of marriage and romance—even though she's only a high school student. She's just seen her parents' seemingly perfect marriage fall apart, and she doesn't trust the institution as much as she once did. While she used to see her parents' relationship as something that would last forever, now she sees that even forever can be destroyed. After her mom runs off with Peter Hamilton, marriage just doesn't seem as shiny and safe anymore—and neither does the family unit.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Why do you think her mom's marriage to Peter Hamilton is so upsetting for Mclean?
    2. Do you really think that her parents had a perfect marriage like Mclean thought?
    3. How do you think Mclean's dad copes with the fallout of his marriage? Do you think he's handling it in a healthy way?

    Chew on This

    Because of her parents' divorce, Mclean is now highly skeptical about any relationship working out, which is why she keeps Dave at arm's length even though she's falling in love with him.

    Mclean's parents think that their divorce only affects their relationship with each other, but in fact it has had some serious effects on Mclean.

  • Lies and Deceit

    There are a lot of lies floating around in What Happened to Goodbye. Even though Mclean seems like a good, forthcoming kid, she's not exactly honest about her personal life—instead she tends to create elaborate personas so that no one gets close to the real Mclean. She even goes so far as to make a bunch of online profiles for all her different personalities. How weird is that? And she's not the only liar—let's not forget that the number one reason Mclean is so angry with her mother is because she lied and deceived their family about her affair with Peter Hamilton.

    Yup—this story's built on a foundation of lies.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Do you think either Mclean or her dad saw her mom's affair coming?
    2. Why does Mclean keep changing her name and persona whenever she meets new people?
    3. Why doesn't Mclean's dad tell her and Opal that Luna Blu is going to close?

    Chew on This

    Even though Mclean's mom is constantly reaching out and trying to spend time with her, Mclean doesn't want to see her because she still feels betrayed by her lies, even after all these years.

    When Mclean's friends find her Ume.com accounts, she runs away because she doesn't want to face them and explain why she's reinvented herself so many times over the years. She's afraid they'll think she's inauthentic and lying to them.

  • Exploration

    We're not just talking about geographic exploration when it comes to this theme and the characters in What Happened to Goodbye—although Mclean and her dad do move around a lot. No, we're also talking about a journey of personal exploration that Mclean and the characters around her are undergoing. Pretty much everyone digs deep at some point in this book, and emerges with a new and improved personal understanding.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Why does Dave decide to take a service industry job even though he's a kid genius who can intern at a prestigious laboratory if he wants to?
    2. Do you think that Mclean and her dad like living in so many different places in a short period of time?
    3. Why does Mclean decide to go to the Poseidon by herself after she leaves her mom's beach house?

    Chew on This

    Even though he could have graduated early, Dave decides to go to public school and take a part-time job because he wants to explore what it's like to be an ordinary teenager.

    Even though Mclean's lived in all sorts of different places, her real self-exploration comes when she stays in one place for a while—Lakeview.

  • Community

    Because she and her dad move around so much in What Happened to Goodbye, Mclean never gets to really be a part of a community—but when they move to Lakeview, they can't help but be dragged into the community. It's kind of how Lakeview rolls.

    Her dad gets attached to the restaurant, while Mclean starts making friends and even participates in building a model version of the town. And by staying in Lakeview to finish out her senior year, Mclean gets to be a part of the community in a way she never though she would—going to prom, graduating, and signing a yearbook with friends—and the experience is completely priceless.

    Questions About Community

    1. Why does Deb wait for Mclean to come back before finishing the final details of the model town?
    2. How has Mclean's dad made connections to Lakeview just like his daughter?
    3. How is Lakeview more of a home for Mclean now than Tyler, where her mom lives?

    Chew on This

    The model town symbolizes Mclean and her dad's own connection to Lakeview as a place. As she begins to work on the model town more, Mclean becomes more and more a part of the local community.

    Even though her mom thinks that Mclean can just come back to Tyler and pick up where she left off, Mclean knows that she'll never be a part of that community again—especially since everyone knows what happened to her parents' marriage.

  • Isolation

    Mclean and her dad might not be moving to middle-of-nowhere towns in What Happened to Goodbye, but they're still pretty alone in the world. Whenever they move into a new house, they keep their connections surface-level and hardly unpack their bags—they're always ready for the next move. While this makes packing up and moving again easy, it comes at a steep emotional cost—they're pretty lonely, even when they have each other to lean on—and it's only when Mclean starts making friends in Lakeview that she starts to feel better about her life.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Why do Mclean and her dad only live with the bare minimum? Why do they live like survivalists in their empty house?
    2. Why does Mclean decide to call Dave when she's alone at the Poseidon?
    3. Do you think that Mclean's dad feels lonely now that he's always on the road? Why or why not?
    4. How does Deb's life change when she meets Mclean and all her other friends?

    Chew on This

    Mclean and her dad live in an empty house that reflects their lack of connections to the place where they live; they're afraid that if they clutter their lives with things and people, they'll be hurt again. But it's only when they start to make ties that they're truly able to thrive.

    Even though Mclean has always left towns without saying goodbye, this changes in Lakeview. When she is planning to leave Lakeview, she's finally developed the ability to form attachments—and to try to maintain them when she leaves a place.