Rummanah Aasi
 I have read Stead's two previous books, When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy, without any success. I was not able to connect with the characters and I thought the books tried too hard. I guess the third time is the charm as I found her latest book, Goodbye Stranger, to be delightful because of her fleshed out characters and an engaging plot. Please note that this review is based on the advanced copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley. Goodbye Stranger will be published on August 4, 2015.

Description: Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? 
  This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend? 
On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Review: Junior high is a turbulent time where your friends transform inexplicably, your own body and emotions perplex you, and the world seems fraught with questions, and perhaps the most confusing ones of all concern the nature of love. Stead expertly brings all the emotions and frustrations we felt during this time in our lives by focusing on Bridge Barsamian, her best girlfriends, and her newest friend Sherm-a boy who is definitely not her boyfriend (probably). 
 Bridge and her girlfriends have vowed from elementary school to stay friends and to never fight. Their friendship is tested in seventh grade when each girl begins a new transformation. Emily has suddenly developed a figure that attracts a lot of attention. Tabitha is an increasingly committed human rights activist and becoming a budding feminist. Bridge is trying to shake off her anxiety and nightmares of an accident that almost cost her life and seeks security from wearing a headband with black cat's ears. 
  Stead's set up might not sound unique, but instead of following the all too common path of friends being divided due to their different interests, the author goes with a different approach by examining (and really) celebrating female friendship along with various forms of love. The seventh graders aren't the only characters working out relationships. There are married parents and divorced parents who interact with one another. There is also Sherm's grandfather who has suddenly left his wife of 50 years and moved to New Jersey with a new family. There's also a mysterious character whose Valentine's Day is doled out in second-person snippets interspersed within the rest of the story. 
 Stead also explores how we communicate and how messages, both digital and verbal, often get distorted. I really liked the discussion of sexting in the book. It was unexpected but handled with maturity and levity that would I hope spark conversation with both young readers and their parents. All of the themes in the book are taken seriously, but the writing is never condescending. There are plenty of humor, delightful coincidences, and the drama that can seem life-shattering to a tween and a teen alike. The book ends on a high note as characters realize their faults and short comings with grace, forgiveness, and kindness. The big reveal of the mystery person subplot comes nicely together in the end.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of sexting in the middle school, slurs, and bullying. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Shug by Jenny Han, Secret Language of Girls by Frances O'Roark Dowell,
6 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    "the author goes with a different approach by examining (and really) celebrating female friendship along with various forms of love."

    Well yay for that! Emery Lord is another one that writes really strong female friendships that could have easily gone the more typical YA route and deteriorated into nastiness, and that's what I love about her books so much. Clearly I'm going to be a fan of this author as well Rummanah:)

  2. Yes, junior high is probably one of the hardest time in a kid's life. I am glad this one takes on so many issues and that it ends on a high note.

  3. Kindlemom Says:

    Kudos to you for giving this author so many chances and yay for it paying off. Glad this was one you could connect with better than the others.

  4. Oh I am glad you read this one and it paid off for you. Hm... this one might be good for my cousin who's kids are reaching that age. I also love that it has strong female relationships. Yea, might need to check this one out.

  5. I liked Stead's first book When You Reach Me probably because of all the literary allusions to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. The year it was published I didn't have any trouble getting my high school students to read it, but no one has read it since that time. Do your high school students read her books?

  6. Aylee Says:

    Huh, this sounds impressive for a book that doesn't have the most unique premise. I think I especially would have appreciated a book like this when I was a tween and had so many of these questions and issues crowding my mind. I'm glad this was a winner for you, Rummanah, and hurray for positive friendships!

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