On the third Monday of seventh grade, in a fit of desperation, Bridge completes a homework assignment at the breakfast table. At that moment, her answer—in the requisite full sentence—to the question What is love? reads:
Love is when you like someone so much that you can’t just call it “like,” so you have to call it “love.”
And, at its heart, friendship is what Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger is about. It’s about healthy friendships and dysfunctional friendships, about how some friendships weather growth and change and how others don’t, about how forgiveness and taking a stand aren’t mutually exclusive, about how new friendships are formed and about how sometimes, old friendships peter out. It’s about friendships between girls, between boys and girls, between boys, between siblings, between parents, between students and teachers. It’s about romance that’s grounded in friendship and about friendship that blossoms in tandem with romance.
It’s about Bridge, who survived an accident years ago that left her wondering why, exactly, she survived—whether or not she survived for a reason, whether or not she’s still alive because she’s supposed to do something specific.
It’s about Tab, who has just discovered feminism and human rights and civil disobedience, and who is eager to put all of that into practice.
It’s about Emily, who is suddenly a soccer star, suddenly voluptuous, and suddenly friends with a whole bunch of older kids.
It’s also about their older siblings—and to a lesser degree, their parents and their grandparents—who look so confident and so knowledgeable to the girls, but who are all dealing with their own challenges and questions and moral dilemmas. It’s about seeing people as people, rather than as A Teacher or A Mean Girl or A Wife or A Barista, and it’s about realizing that our personal Defining Moments may have had an effect on the others around us. It’s about acknowledging our complexities and our differences and our connections; it’s about trying to do the right thing, about how we can love each other even when we’re fighting, about acknowledging when we’ve hurt someone else, about trying to make it right, and about trying to do better in the future.
It deals with social media, with cellphones, with the ease with which we can both take pictures and share them. It deals with slut-shaming, as carried out by peers and as quietly supported and condoned by adults, and it deals with the conflicting messages that we as a society send to young women—to be proud of yourself, to love your body…but also to hide it away. It’s very much set in the present, but it feels lasting and timeless, because of the tone, because of the quality, because of the depth.
It’s quiet, it’s honest, it’s thoughtful, it’s beautifully written—lots of phrases and sentences to savor, but still tight—it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s occasionally angry, it’s absolutely lovely. Finishing the book left me sad that my time with the characters was over, but at that point, they were so real to me—seriously, SO REAL—that I’m hopeful and confident that they’ll navigate the rest of their adolescence with bravery and kindness and general aplomb.
I read the entire thing with a smile on my face, and look forward to putting it in many, many hands.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.