Friday, December 11, 2015

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger is in the running for a Newberry medal and I certainly can see why.  Classified as a middle grade novel, the story unfolds from three points of view.  Bridge and Sherm, both students in junior high, take turns revealing their story in alternating chapters.  However, every now and then a third person adds to the story, but we are not told who the the speaker is. Bridge survived being hit by a car at a younger age and when she was in hospital a nurse said to her that she had survived for a reason.  Bridge is perplexed as to what that reason might be. Her two best friends, Tab and Emily, play an important role in the story and readers will relate to the situations each of the girls experience as they make their way through the seventh grade.
So much happens in this book. Really! Em is a talented athlete and singer who is interested in an older (8th grade) boy. Em and her friend Patrick share selfies with each other, but as you can guess, suddenly Em’s selfie is shared far and wide. Tab is enamored with her feminist teacher Ms. Berman who becomes known as The Berperson. Sherm’s grandfather leaves his grandmother after a very long marriage and Sherm has difficulty with the family dynamics.  Our unknown author skips school and hides out a coffee shop owned by Bridge’s Dad. Bridge’s brother Jamie is constantly in some challenge or dare with his friend Alex. Bridge connects many of the characters in the story (good choice for her name) and is relied on by her friends. Bridge seems like a very typical middle school girl, except she wears a cat ears headband to school every day.
Oh . . . and the three girls have pledged to never fight.  Middle school girls . . . who cannot have fights . . . even when they are really annoyed with each other.
The title is intriguing as well. Sherm asks, “Is the new you the stranger? Or is the stranger the person you leave behind?”
I really enjoyed this book! The author had me thinking as to who the third voice was and how it connected to the rest of the story.  I liked the characters and could connect with them and their experiences. As I often do, I then went to Goodreads to read other reviews.  I recommend that you do so also, but read the book first.
One reviewer stated that this was really a book written for adults masquerading as a middle school novel. 
I read as much, if not more, young adult and MY literature than adult literature. I like it. I like making recommendations.  The reviewer has made me think. I rate this book very high, but would middle schoolers do the same? The publisher rates it for ages 10 and up and I do think it appeals to an older audience not 10-year olds.  Young readers may miss much of what is happening in the story and the back story.  The book has the potential for a great book club discussion.  It certainly has diversity, but it is not front and centre.  Bridge talks about her Armenien family; Tabitha’s family is Hindu, and Sherm’s Italian family live together as several generations. Will student readers recognize the family expectations that have shaped the young characters?  The selfie sharing certainly provides opportunity for discussion on internet safety. The many ups and downs in the relationships among the characters also provide much for discussion purposes. I think young readers will simply enjoy the story as it unfolds.
So is Goodbye Stranger written for adults or youth? Does it matter?
I am off to find a middle schooler who has read the book so we can have a discussion. I will let you know what kind of feedback I receive.

If you are looking for a book trailer for Goodbye Stranger, I recommend this one.

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