When she was eight years old, Bridget Barsamian loved Charlie Chaplin, Volkswagen Bugs, and roller-skating.  All three passions contribute to a life-changing accident on a New York street for this young Armenian-American.  After four surgeries and a year of physical therapy, Bridge is back ibook-goodbyestrangern the game but uncertain about who she really is.  Now she’s in seventh grade wearing cat ears and trying to define love and the purpose of life.

Although this is the basic plotline for Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, the novel wrestles with some of life’s biggest complications along the way: youth, high school, and friendships—where reality really can be as terrible and as confusing as it feels.  Telling her story from the multiple perspectives of Bridge, Tab, Em, Sherm Russo, and a mysterious Valentine’s Day speaker, Stead takes readers deep into the folds of psychology and philosophy as her characters attempt not only to define the different kinds of love but to unravel the threads that define, shape, and attach us.  In essence, Stead’s book complements Benjamin Franklin’s observation: “While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”  This inner self exploration and this response to what happens are Bridge’s focus.  As Stead’s characters navigate challenges with sexting, intruder drills, divorce, cruelty, and the messy business of dealing with people, they come to realize that all the pieces will never fall into place.  They also learn to accept the confusion and to react to the different shapes and colors of good music—a metaphor that Stead explores and extends throughout the novel.

One of the book’s features that especially gives it reader-appeal is its honesty.  Stead does not attempt to simplify the deep topics she tackles.  Although she admits we are the authors of our own life stories, Stead doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulty in the writing or in the living of that life story.  Despite our efforts to be our best selves and despite “Twinkie swearing” in fifth grade that there will be no fighting, friends fight, lie, cheat, steal, and betray one another.  The seductive power of choice and the search for approval lead us into temptation.   While we don’t know what is on the other side of any one choice—whether we will find heaven or hell—we live for the halvah moments, those moments that are “like fudge without the chocolate” (67).

  • Posted by Donna

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