(E) Ages 12-15, Book Reviews, Realistic Fiction
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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

goodbye strangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 304 pages.

  • Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
  • Recommended For: Ages 12-15

Bottom Line: Three best friends attempt to navigate seventh grade with their one rule–no fights–still in effect in this contemporary realistic fiction novel.

Best friends since the fourth grade, Bridge, Tab, and Emily enter seventh grade together with their long-standing rule: No Fights. Ever. But middle school wreaks havoc on long-standing friendships, and Tab, Emily, and Bridge are no exception.

Suddenly, Em is more curvy, and boys like Patrick sit up and notice. When Em, bored with texting pictures of knees or ankles, decides to send a more revealing picture to Patrick (in her bra and jeans), Tab, spouting language learned from their feminist teacher, wants no part of it. Bridge agrees to help only after Em  promises not to send it.

A month goes by; Bridge quits worrying about it. Until her good friend, Sherm, tells her Emily is crying. She sent the photo, and “somehow” it got around the whole school; now, she and Patrick are in big trouble. Together, the girls learn what it means to fight for friends and friendship even when they are angry with one another or afraid for one another.

Much of the novel is from Bridge’s perspective, but letters from Sherm to his grandfather as well as a second person narrative from an unnamed high schooler add emotional depth and complexity to the narrative. The tone in the novel is quite well done regarding the dangers of texting pictures and the potential ramifications.

Outstanding characterization, strong and relevant themes, and a pitch perfect voice illuminate our deep and abiding need for real friends, a healthy self respect, and to speak and hear the truth in love. Stead skillfully stops short of didacticism, but parents and educators will appreciate the message and want to discuss it with the middle schoolers in their lives: People are subjects, not objects. As Christians, we might phrase it thus: all people (ourselves and others) are made in God’s image and deserving of respect. Sometimes this respect means speaking the truth in love and fighting for a friend.

Cautions: vulgarity (one “bitch,” one “hell”); sensuality (see review)

Overall Rating: 4.5

  • Worldview Rating: 4
  • Artistic Rating: 5

Categories: Realistic Fiction, Middle Grades, Character Traits, Starred Review, Discussion Starter

Discussion Points:

  • Do you think the school goes “overboard” in their judgment of Emily and Patrick?
  • How is Bridge applying (or not applying) Matthew 22:39 (“you should love your neighbor as yourself”) when she lets Emily talk her into helping with “the picture”?
  • How does the fact that each human is made in God’s image relate to this story? How does that core truth impact our treatment of others? Ourselves?

book received from publisher via netgalley in return for a fair review; cover image from amazon





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