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Goodbye Stranger: 12/08/15

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is a middle grade book told in three points of view: Bridge, Sherm, and an mysterious girl who is struggling to be noticed at school. There's a lot going on in this slim volume and I'm not convinced it works.

Bridge's story is about how she grows apart from her two best friends as they enter middle school. She, Emily, and Tabitha have been best friends for years. They used to all draw special characters on the top of their homework but now the other two have stopped and Bridge has gotten scolded by a teacher for doing something so childish in middle school. Clubs are somehow an extracurricular requirement in their school, but the girls can't decide which one to take. They end up in three different clubs.

Emily, or Em for short, has grown the most over the summer and is now in an intense relationship with an eighth grader. He and she begin a cellphone game of chicken where each one sends a picture of one of their body parts. You can see where this is going. Of course someone else interferes and soon both are drawn into a sexting scandal.

I suppose if there is one central theme it is teenage obsession. Emily and Patrick are obsessed with each other. Bridge is obsessed with understanding why she survived being hit by a car at the age of 8. Sherm meanwhile is obsessed with his absentee grandfather, forever questioning why he left. Finally there is the mystery girl who just wants to be noticed in time for Valentine's day.

I realize structurally this out of order, multiple POV narrative isn't much different than When You Reach Me but it just doesn't gel the same way. There's so much going on and none of it really seems connected until near the end. When it does come together it's rather anticlimactic and somewhat implausible.

All of this early teenage angst seems overdone. A Pew Research poll done in 2009 found that only 4% of teens of middle school age sent sexts. The sexting plot here seems like unnecessary handwringing — something that would be more relevant in a YA than a middle grade book.

Three stars

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