What it’s about:
Another town. Another school. Another Mclean. Ever since her parents’ bitter divorce, Mclean and her father have been fleeing their unhappy past. And Mclean’s become a pro at reinventing herself with each move. But in Lakeview, Mclean finds herself putting down roots and making friends—in part, thanks to Dave, the most real person Mclean’s ever met. Dave just may be falling in love with her, but can he see the person she really is? Does Mclean herself know?
Reading this book was like catching up with an old friend. After only a page, I sighed in contentment because I felt like I was home. I wanted to put on sweat pants and relax into the story. That’s the great thing about Sarah Dessen. When you read one of her books, you know what to expect, and yet she always manages to surprise you. There’s always a genuinely good girl with a complicated family dynamic. She’s either an only child or she has a sister. She meets a boy who gets her into a quirky hobby. They usually are suffering from the opposite problem and can help solve things for the other.
In this case, Mclean moves around so much she’s forgotten her identity. She has the freedom to cut and run, leave town and never say goodbye, never make connection with people. As opposed to Dave whose parents are so strict he can barely get five minutes away to hang out with the friends he’s known for life, so close they even have matching tattoos. Enter modeling–the miniature building kind, not the runway kind–a chaotic restaurant, and circumstances that force Mclean to become the person she is instead of the fake person she creates.
I found myself instantly hooked by the idea of a girl creating a new identity in each new school, trying on someone else in order to not be herself. Particularly because, well, I’ve done this. In high school, I was someone else and I even had a different name. But in college, I decided to start going by my middle name (Shana) and do things differently. And by that I simply meant do things. In high school I was a good kid who only had one taste of alcohol and never really had a boyfriend (unless you count the guy I dated Freshman year for a week and only because I felt too bad saying no). In college, the new name came with a new attitude. I went out often, I joined the popular sorority, I got my heartbroken. So I could relate to what Mclean does in each of her schools and therefore, I was even more intrigued when circumstances forced Mclean to be herself.
One of the best things about Sarah Dessen’s books is you really feel like you know these characters. Each and every one of them. Even the background people Mclean walks past (and in some cases, you do know them. They were the stars of an earlier book). The characters are so real and 3D, with every quirk and flaw laid out on the page. Dave with his weird hobbies and Deb with her organization and anagrams, Opal with her eclectic style and her love of the restaurant, even Mclean’s parents, who had a lot of screen time here. As writers, we always hear complaints that parents in YA are too absent, but then I also hear the opposite: that teens don’t care about parents. Obviously this is not everyone’s opinion, but it is a hard balance to strike when writing and I think Dessen does it perfectly. I cared about the parents because I cared about Mclean. And that right there is the key to everything.
But maybe the biggest character of all is the town itself, especially in this book where the town model was concerned. Long time readers of Dessen have spent a lot of time in this town. It really does feel like home to us. So I could see why it might start to feel like home to Mclean.
I loved this book. Every word of it. I love how well Dessen handle flashbacks, seamlessly moving the reader through time so they barely even notice the time jumps. I love how she ends each scene and each chapter with the perfect phrase or poignant image, not usually a cliffhanger, but something that lingers, making you want to keep turning.
Just like THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER and THIS LULLABY, WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE is definitely added to my all-time fave books.
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