Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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book-goodbyestrangerSo, soon I will celebrate one year at my new(ish) job. It comes with a lot of new responsibilities but also some freedoms. I’m still working in a library, but not in Youth Services or Collection Development. What’s that mean?

It means–I can read whatever I want. Sure, I read what I wanted to before, but now I don’t feel a responsibility to read children’s fiction.

And yet, I still do. Especially when I read a review of a title that sounds particularly compelling AND I am fortunate enough to read an advanced copy courtesy of NetGalley.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is a story about Bridge, her best girl friends, seventh grade and a certain boy that is a friend-but-not-yet-more-but-someday-maybe-more. Already interesting, right? But, then Newbery Medal Winner Stead takes the novel in a unique and important direction. First, the three girls decided long ago (5th grade) to never fight. Their pledge is tested when the trio soon start walking down their own paths. Emily is newly curvacious and a star on her soccer team. Tabitha is active in the fight for human rights. And Bridge, well, Bridge knows she’s here for a reason, because when she was in the hospital recovering from a serious accident, a nurse told her that was why she was still alive. For a reason.

Adolescence is that odd hodge-podge between adulthood and childhood and this book hits it perfectly. Between reacting to events at school and within their families, the girls are faced with decisions both big and small. Stead is also able to weave in current topics without it feeling forced. When Emily’s texting relationship with a boy gets out of hand, responsibilities and consequences are a natural part of the story.

Full disclosure: I don’t pretend to be an expert on diversity in real life or in novels. However, I do know that I want my own child to live surrounded by a diversity of people and experiences. So, when Tab’s family celebrates a Hindu festival in an informative, matter of fact way, it was perfect and touching.

The chapters each are told from a different viewpoint–including several chapters from a mystery character who isn’t revealed until things fall apart and come together again at the end.

I’m looking forward to giving this layered, thought provoking novel to my niece–and having a lively discussion after she’s read it. If you know a middle schooler, or if you ever were in middle school, consider picking up this delightful gem.

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