When I read a tweet by Anne Ursu about Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, calling it both “brilliant and a structural marvel,” I knew this was a book I wanted to get a hold of as soon as possible. I mean this tweet was coming from the author who fit Joe Mauer and the Snow Queen into the same book! That and structural marvels are about as rare as a windless day on the frozen prairies of western Minnesota.
So when Goodbye Stranger hit Netgalley, I put in a request for it right away.
I’m so glad I did.
This is a tale about so many important topics like friendship, survival, family, divorce, love, existence, honesty, bravery, digital citizenship, change, regret, individuality, shame, relationships, revenge, and courage, but to try to call it any one of these items fails to express that more than anything else, Goodbye Stranger is one heck of a story.
Stead creates believable middle school, high school, and adult characters here who both stumble and soar. Humanity and our relationships are so beautiful and yet so messy, and I think Stead captures this truth with such clarity. The moments of vulnerability she’s able to share through her characters makes it so.
And structural marvel it is most definitely.
I was blown away to find chapters written in the second person to create a sense of mystery in which a high school student struggles to balance her friendships. Sherm, one of my favorite characters, write letters to his grandfather, who suddenly left his grandmother after decades of marriage, that he never sends but notes how many days are left until his birthday. All the while, Stead develops a brilliant narrative focused mainly on three friends trying to survive seventh grade, and several well developed subplots, including the two mentioned above, the girls’ families, Sherm and Bridge’s friendship, and a several other relationships that all become so interconnected, I’m left wondering how many revisions this story must have gone through to make everything work so flawlessly.
When we read stories like this, the world certainly seems less strange and definitely more hopeful.
Finally I’ve read several critiques that say this book is confusing, and a few that suggest that young people won’t like it as much as adults. These critiques remind me of some critiques I’ve read of Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman: Too dark. Too confusing. Too adult. Too etc. Starmer’s trilogy to date (two of three books have been published), has been one of the most popular reads for my eighth graders in the past two years. I think this due directly to its complexity and stunning storytelling. Starmer’s trilogy has broken new ground for many of my students as readers. Although certainly less frightening than The Riverman and its sequel The Whisper, I think when given the opportunity to forge into new reading territory, such as with a structural marvel like Goodbye Stranger, many middle and even high school students will relish the time they spend with this excellently woven tale.
Don’t say, “Goodbye,” until you’ve said, “Hello,” to Goodbye Stranger.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Published by Wendy Lamb Books
Age Recommendation: 12 and up
Book received via Netgalley