Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Kate Jones
Reviewed by Kate Jones
Summary: An engaging story of young teenage friendship and the difficulties of navigating early adolescence.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Andersen Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1783443192

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The book opens with a prologue about an eight year old Bridget Barsamian, who woke up in hospital following a horrific and life threatening traffic accident involving roller skates and New York traffic. Bridget is told by a nurse that she is lucky to be alive and that she must have survived the accident for a reason. Bridget, who has no real memory of the accident, has to miss a year of school and on her return, tells everyone she now wants to be known as Bridge, as, I don't feel like Bridget anymore.

From this premise, we are pulled into the adolescent world of Bridge and her two best friends, Tabitha and Emily, as they find their way through the changes and challenges of Middle School. Bridge takes to wearing a pair of cat ears for reasons she can't explain other than they feel right.

I found the storyline a little confusing when, in the second chapter, entitled Valentine's Day, the voice switches to a mystery girl who is hiding from everyone and bunking off school for the day. However, as these chapters become integrated within the whole storyline of the novel, and they are all called Valentine's Day, it becomes easier to follow.

A few chapters in, we are introduced to yet another voice as we read one page chapters in the form of a letter from a boy named Sherm to his absent grandfather. Sherm befriends Bridge and, as you read on, you get the sense that all the characters will at some point converge. There is a theme of Valentine's Day, where you feel the book will reach a natural climax, though at the outset it is actually September and the start of the new school term.

The chapters are short and move the story forward at a good pace, and would make this book good for a parent reading with an older pre-teen perhaps. I found it had a nice mix of interesting and slightly unusual characters for a teenage novel: Bridge is original and quirky and makes decisions for herself, which I think is important for young teenage girls to see. Tab is a young budding feminist and brings a touch of humour to the story with her constant references to discrimination, and Emily is a popular football player who is much more interested in boys than the other two friends. One thing I think is really good about Stead's characterisation is that, although there are some difficulties faced by the teenage girls, she is also sympathetic to the male characters in the book, and we get a real sense that she is showing how difficult growing up can be for both genders.

The novel tackles some big issues such as 'sexting' in schools, though it doesn't label it as such, but it does so in a gentle and appropriate way for a younger audience. I would say this book would be suitable for children aged around 10-16 years, and would be a helpful book to help discuss such issues. For this reason, I found it useful to read as a mother of two girls aged 8 and 16. I think the 16 year old would only just be young enough to still get a lot from it, but the 8 year old would probably understand it if I read it with her to explain the issues it raises.

The mystery character of the Valentine's Day chapters was well integrated and the suspense well-held, as I didn't work out who it was or what she had done until almost the end of the book. Although I didn't think that the problem the girl is running away from is as terrible as I thought it would be, I do think this is a strength of the book; it gives younger teens the chance to read about situations which could have gone much, much worse and hopefully allows them to think what they might have done in similar situations.

My only slight criticism of the book would be that I didn't feel that the Epilogue contributed much, and I thought that giving an update on two of the characters two years later was a little unnecessary. Other than that, I found it an enjoyable and engaging story, with interesting characters, a sound plot-line and a gently moral theme. I would definitely highly recommend for older children and young teens of either gender, as well as parents of children in that age group, and look forward to reading it with my younger daughter soon.

If you like this book, you might like to try When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

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