Goodbye Stranger is a love letter to the changing points, the shaky areas of childhood that help us figure out who we are in a world that constantly wants us to change. Bridge survived a being hit by a car, currently wears cat ears, and wonders why she's still alive. Sherm writes letters to his grandfather and refuses to answer his calls. Emily and Tabitha made a pact with Bridge to never argue, but are being pulled inextricably apart by text messages and social justice clubs. An unnamed wanderer navigates a world where everything is made of lava, and best friends are replaced by horrid outsiders. As their stories collide and come apart, they'll need to figure out what to do when those they know best become strangers.
I read Rebecca Stead's "When You Reach Me" when I was in middle school, and it blew me away. I read her "Goodbye Stranger", now in high school, and found that the change in years didn't change the impact. The thing that astounded me was, despite me being well outside the age range of her characters, I found the book entrancing for all ages. The characters problems and personalities don't seem juvenile or trite. They seem human, a little heartbreaking, and highly relatable. I think the thing that makes this book are the characters. They're each as unique as a fingerprint, but they maintain their ability to sound strangely like the people you go to school with, or work with, or live with. Each of their motivations are perfectly obvious, each of their flaws on stunning display, fleshing out characters that feel like you'd see them wandering around your school on any given day. The book has a lot of heavy topics and sorrow packed into barely 300 pages, but still feels light enough that you aren't miserable the whole time. There's a lot of heart, a lot of happiness, and a lot of good changes alongside the tragedies of middle-school, or just regular, life. The book has a floating quality that makes it feel strangely detached. I can't tell you if this is a good or bad thing, but its definitely intentional, and it definitely messed with my ahead enough to make me want to keep reading. The only concrete things I can really say about this book is that the prose was excellent, the writing was accessible, the characters were interesting, the topics were thoughtful, and the ending was satisfying.
All in all, this book is really hard to describe. It's happy and sad and very realistic and very detached from reality and simplistic and strangely complex. I don't know what to call this book except a good read for those that like small stories, cat ears, friendships, broken friendships, and the infinite potential of strangers.
Reviewer Grade: 11