What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: What Happened to Goodbye

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: May 10th, 2011

Number of Pages: 402

Rating: 3/5


Who is the real McLean?

Since her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother’s new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combing Sarah Dessen’s trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading. [From Goodreads]


Your past is always your past. Even if you forget it, it remembers you


If someone were to walk up to me and ask if I’d read a book by Sarah Dessen, I’d probably say, “Of course! I love her!”, but if I really consider it, I have to admit that I don’t love all of her books. Some of them, no matter how built-up they seem to be by her adoring fans, fall flat with me. They seem to be ghosts of books of hers that I like more, and I can’t help but feel that the storylines, characters, setting, etc. are getting kind of… stale.

Now, I don’t want to judge her next book prematurely. It could blow my mind – I hope it does – but this one certainly didn’t. What Happened to Goodbye is sweet. It’s nice. It’s sort of like a chick flick you go to see in theaters simply because you could use a little formulaic happily-ever-after in your life. Sometimes, you’re surprised by the wittiness, the characters, or – let me just say it – the wardrobe, and you decide to purchase that movie later. What Happened to Goodbye simply lacked that spice, that oomph to make it stand out.

McLean is likable, and I found her way of coping with her past (and present) intriguing. I know that I couldn’t shed my own character so swiftly and zip myself into the suit of someone else. I wish that we had learned more about her previous personalities and that they played a larger role in her development. The fact that she was changing herself was crucial, but I feel like an opportunity was missed to deepen her character. It would have been so much more interesting if Dessen had taken the time to make all the different McLeans matter. However, I wasn’t too caught up on this as I read and managed to enjoy the story just the same.

Dessen’s books tend to involve 1) Romance, 2) Family drama, and 3) The food business. Whether it be catering, renovating struggling restaurants (as in this book), or simply visits to a Waffle House. I love this aspect. Incorporating food always makes things better, does it not? I also appreciate the insight into jobs and businesses I likely will never be a part of on my own. I feel like an insider – like I’m getting a VIP sneak-peek behind the scenes.

The secondary characters in the novel are the main reason I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did some of Dessen’s other novels (particularly The Truth About Forever, which remains my favorite). They seemed like shadows of characters in her other books (and the love interest is no exception, sadly). Perhaps she threw in a few quirks, a tattoo here, a dark past there, but their personalities were a bit too familiar. Ironically, one of the only characters to stand out to me has been in past books of Dessen’s – Jason. He’s taken quite a turn in his life, and I believe it’s done him wonders. I would love to run into him in future books and see what drastic changes he’s made, or how he’s settled. Either one would intrigue me, as he’s changed so much already.

I appreciate the fact that Sarah Dessen chooses to deal with some common issues. Divorce is, sadly, an incredibly common problem. Sometimes, it is for the best and the family manages to thrive afterwards. However, in McLean’s case, the divorce has thrown her life for a spin. There’s one passage in which she talks about this that rang true to me in an unexpected way (and also made me appreciate the wholeness of my own family):

But in the real world, you couldnt really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.

Isn’t it gorgeous? And heart-wrenching at the same time? It’s thoughts like that in Sarah Dessen’s novels that keep me coming back for more, even when the book is a little lackluster in my eyes. She manages to encompass issues that rack peoples’ souls in one, dense paragraph.

Unfortunately, What Happened to Goodbye did not astound me or keep me turning pages wildly, but I appreciate it nonetheless for the profound or sweet moments scattered through it and would recommend it to the people who, when asked if they’ve read one of Dessen’s books, reply, “Of course! I love her!”

One Commentto “What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen; Review”

  1. ok, I was super excited to read this book. I adore Dessen's writing and I was disappointed when I read that this one wasn't the best. Especially when I loved the last couple that I read of hers, I might just have to read it and live with the pain of not completely loving it.

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