I have to thank NetGalley for approving my request to read Rebecca Stead’s “Goodbye Stranger”. Somehow, in only 136 pages, she tackles some of the tough middle and high school subjects like friendship, love, loss, mistakes, and the purpose of life. And, in true Rebecca Stead fashion, she builds a puzzle within the main story by blending in chapters told in second person point of view. That’s just pure genius.
Somehow, I need to describe to you the feeling I had while reading “Goodbye Stranger”. Because we’re watching the characters suffer through the complex problems of adolescence, I felt like if I turned the pages too hard, I might shatter the delicate world I was observing. When I could foresee a conflict approaching, I caught myself holding my breath, wanting so badly to hold the hand of Bridge and her friends and comfort them. Everyone has experienced the awkward, awful, and sometimes awesome period of life known as adolescence, and “Goodbye Stranger” will teleport you back to those years.
When Bridge was a child, she nearly lost her life after being struck by a car. As she recovered in the hospital, people kept telling her how lucky she was to have survived. But what Bridge remembers most clearly is what a nurse said to her on the day she was discharged. “Thirteen broken bones and a punctured lung. You must have been put on this earth for a reason, little girl, to have survived.” As the story of “Goodbye Stranger” unfolds, we try to learn, along with Bridge, what that purpose might be.
In elementary school, Bridge, Tab, and Emily made a pact: that they would always be friends, and that they would never fight. Their pact is put to the test as they experience the trials of middle school. Their differences are obvious: Emily has a body and plays soccer, Tab is a member of the Human Rights Club, and Bridge surprises everybody by joining the school’s tech crew. Will they be able to make it through seventh grade and still come out as friends?
We also meet Sherm. He is silently suffering as he adjusts to life without his grandfather. No, he hasn’t passed away as people usually suspect. Rather, he decided to leave his grandmother and move out of the house they shared with Sherm and his parents. Sherm’s path crosses with Bridge’s when they start working together on the tech crew. As they spend more time together, they find themselves questioning their feelings for one another. They find that, although they enjoy being friends, these new emotions are both exciting and scary.
As Bridge works to solve her own Rubik’s cube of feelings, she also needs to help Emily and Tab with their problems. What started out as an innocent text of a foot has now turned into a game of chicken, and Emily doesn’t want to be the one to back down. She’s has been sending and receiving photos with a boy, and now it’s escalated past her comfort level. When a revealing picture of her is leaked to the whole school, her peers turn on her. As she walks down the hall, Emily is called an assortment of hurtful names and she every day she finds a pile of slanderous notes in her locker. Though she ignored their advice in the beginning, Emily now calls on her friends to help her.
Meanwhile, a third unnamed story is being woven among the events of the main plot. This girl has skipped school on Valentine’s Day because she doesn’t want to face a friend she’s betrayed. Though it seems like this character is completely disconnected from the others, she is certainly facing the same issues with friendship and trust as Emily, Tab, and Bridge. As you read, you may find yourself more concerned with discovering the identity of the mystery girl than anything else.
By the end of the story, everyone, perhaps including readers, will have explored their boundaries with trust, friendship, and love. Though the characters were very different from one another, their shared experiences brought them together and helped them realize they aren’t as isolated as they thought. As for Bridge and her purpose for surviving the accident, she realizes that she’s on the planet for the same reason as everyone else.
“Goodbye Stranger” addresses some of the most intimidating experiences of adolescence, but in a very nonthreatening way. The complex themes of trust, friendship, and new love are explored and described simply and beautifully. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s important for young readers to be able to watch the consequences of bad decisions play out in the pages of a story rather than in their own lives. It’s easy to empathize with characters who are at the mercy of peer pressure and new love.
Rebecca Stead has perfectly captured the life of seventh graders in her newest novel. Middle school students everywhere will be able to identify with Bridge and her friends. At times, some of the issues may strike close to home. “Goodbye Stranger” will provide comfort and friendship to readers during a very lonely and confusing time in their lives. The best thing about this book is that the authenticity of the characters will inspire readers to choose loyalty over betrayal, and friendship above all else.
Title: “Goodbye Stranger”
Author: Rebecca Stead (Follow her on Twitter: @RebStead)
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Part of Random House)
Publish Date: August 4, 2015
Pages: 304 in the final copy
You might also enjoy: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead
My recommended age range: 6th-8th grade