Thursday, July 16, 2015

Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger
Rebecca Stead
Random House, 2015  287 pgs
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Alternating chapters tell the stories of seventh-grader Bridge, her new friend Sherm (told in letters to his estranged grandfather), and an unknown teenager who is skipping school for the day and on the run. All three stories overlap, finally coming together by book's end and the identity of the teenager is revealed. Bridge was in a terrible accident when she was younger, almost dying, and now feels different because of it. She starts off her school year wearing cat-ears and they become a security blanket for her as she navigates changing dynamics between her friends and classmates. A chance encounter with Sherm in class leads to both of them working together on the school's drama club's tech crew and, eventually, a friendship slowly develops into innocent romance. Bridge's friend Emily also cultivates a friendship with an eight-grade boy and they begin sending pictures of body parts to each other, at first innocent and then escalating, until it becomes public knowledge and a school scandal. Bridge and other friend Tab help Emily navigate these troubled waters and find a solution to the poor choices. Our mystery teen's story takes place on Valentine's Day, where she is on the run refusing to go to school, eventually hiding out at the coffee shop that Bridge's family owns. There she gets advise from a young Barista, who Bridge's brother has a crush on, and finally finds the courage to face her problems. Bridge and Sherm's plots build to a climax on Valentine's Day and finally connect with the third narrator, bringing the book to a well-wrapped conclusion.

I am a big fan of Rebecca Stead and have read all three of her earlier books for young people. As previously stated in my blog, I am a sucker for books set in New York City, where Stead resides, and this book as well as her more recent two have been set here. This book is lighter than Stead's previous offerings and seems to be for a slightly older audience. The multiple points of view and setting make it a little reminiscent of Wonder, although having one point of view set in the future waiting for the other characters to catch up adds a dimension to the story not often seen in children's literature. The multiple points of view may be confusing to some readers, but add depth and a slight air of mystery for those willing to stick with it. The plot is simplistic and visits conflicts age appropriate to today's young people (no time travel here). I appreciate the "sexting" story line, which is very prevalent and dangerous in the lives of today's socially high-tech young people. Sherm is estranged from his grandfather because of his choosing to divorce his grandmother and moving away from the family home. This is also unusual for children's books, but is a real disturbance in the security of the lives of the young. Stead touches on many themes including sexting, friendship, bullying, divorce, loyalty, problem solving, and handles it all without being preachy or loosing the integrity of the plot. All of our characters have strong family unity, including those families broken by divorce, with supportive parents and healthy sibling relationships. Goodbye Stranger offers a slice of life from today's New York City teens and tweens and provides both valuable lessons and good entertainment.

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