Rebecca Stead has quickly become my favorite contemporary children’s author. She writes realistic characters living their everyday lives, but where this could– maybe even should– be boring, she always manages to add a gravity to their stories that makes her books transcendent. You know those moments when nothing particularly noteworthy is happening, but somehow you feel as if everything is exactly right in the world? Reading Goodbye Stranger, and really any book by Stead, feels like that.
As if that’s not a good enough reason to immediately procure Rebecca Stead’s entire bibliography, Goodbye Stranger has a million other things going for it, too. It’s a really unique genre that fills a pretty sizeable void in youth literature: It’s a true “tween” book. The characters are in junior high, and they’re dealing with issues a bit more mature than elementary-schoolers’, yet not quite as heavy as some that teens experience. Stead writes middle-schoolers with compassion and realism. While all the junior high drama is there, it’s mitigated by the fact that our main character has supportive, loving friends and family. Yet the characters aren’t perfect– they’re all flawed, and they make mistakes. The way they deal with those mistakes, though, and help each other to learn from them, is what makes Goodbye Stranger really incredible. It’s one I’ll keep coming back to for a long time.
At a recent staff meeting, we talked about children’s and teen books we’ve been enjoying. But since Goodbye Stranger is rather hard to categorize (we even carry a copy in both our children’s and teen collections), and since so many of us loved it, we decided to give it its own post. Here’s what my coworkers have to say about it:
From Mary: “In fifth grade, best friends Em, Bridge, and Tab, make a pact to never fight. They would always be a set, a threesome, a clique, BFFAE.. you get the point. When they reach seventh grade, however, this promise is put to the test. As the girls explore junior high – meeting new people, trying new things – they begin to change and so does their relationship. Sherm is dealing with the divorce of his grandparents while navigating seventh grade. His grandfather has moved to another state and Sherm writes (unsent) letters to stay connected. An anonymous high school student has to get through a terrible Valentine’s Day.
What I love about Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger is the exploration of relationships. Changing relationships. I love that she looks into friendships, family dynamics, first crushes, and the personal relationship with oneself. The characters grow up, grow close, grow apart, and grow differently. Stead manages to tie all storylines together in a way that reads genuine and true to life. She writes carefully. Every word, plot point, and character has a purpose. They combine to create a story that every reader will find meaningful and engaging. Children, teens, and adults will recognize themselves in these characters and be swept up in the transformation of each.
I also love the title – Goodbye Stranger. Who is the stranger? Is it the family member who let us down? The friend we thought we knew? Is it the person we used to be? You’ll have to decide for yourself. I’m going to stop gushing now so you can start reading!”
From Kathy: “Goodbye Stranger is a great read that will resonate with anyone who is — or ever has been — 12 years old. Stead perfectly captures the emotion that comes during the middle school years, as you try to figure out who you are and who you want to be. As the characters encounter new experiences and new people, they struggle with how to remain true to themselves and the friends they’ve known most of their lives. Told from multiple perspectives, the characters’ stories weave together to show the strength and fragility of childhood relationships and how those relationships shape who we are.”
Have we convinced you yet? Check out Goodbye Stranger here.