Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had a lot of issues with this book. A lot of issues.
First, seeing after the fact that this is probably meant to be more for the pre-YA crowd makes this book all the more puzzling as the subject matter is pretty mature on a whole, with a key plot point being middle schoolers sending racier and racier pictures to each other. Are we really ready to tackle the pre-teen texting issue like this?
There are other stories in the book, to be sure, and none of them are especially engaging - one involves a kid estranged from his family, another involves skipping school, a third about a kid in recovery from being hit by a car and being clinically dead. The tales intertwine, but not enough in a way that makes for an engaging tale, and it's unfortunate given how well the book is written on a whole. The story is extremely readable, but not especially enjoyable.
Beyond that, the kids sound and act older than they are - the voices sound like teenagers in high school and I had to consistently remind myself they’re middle schoolers. If you're looking for firm consequences for actions such as skipping class and sending scantily-clad photos, they don’t really exist in a significant enough way here - the suspensions levied for some kids and the punishments doled out for others feel like aftereffects and are quickly brushed off as opposed to being significant issues for the kids. While it's hinted at, the fact that kids are being arrested and put on sex offender lists for photos not too far from what is described here means this comes across as highly unrealistic.
It’s as if the focus on their own issues isn’t impacted by anything else happening around them. As well-written from a basic prose standpoint that this book is, it seems like a major miss across the board to try to walk this tightrope and yet seem to not really come to any sort of real solid resolution. It might be *too* realistic in that regard in that nothing is necessarily tied up with a bow. You have lockdown drills, talent shows, and none of it really seems to matter. It's all very strange.
I can't really recommend this to anyone. I get what the attempt was here, and it just doesn't work on a number of levels.
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