The Merry Rose Reads

Book Review:  What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is an engaging writer with a talent for creating interesting characters.  However, in her young adult novel, "What Happened to Goodbye", Ms. Dessen falls short of her promise.

The author sets us up to expect an interesting read.  She has created an arresting young character, Mclean, and she has placed her in interesting, as well as challenging circumstances.

As the story opens, we learn that Mclean is a teenager coping with the aftermath of her parents divorce.  The break-up of her family was not only personally painful, but known to everyone in her community.  Her father escapes from the hurt by taking a job requiring frequent moves.  Mclean goes along with him, and she is at once his companion in flight, his daughter, and his domestic and emotional support. 

Teens explore various aspects of their personality in their search to understand who they really are.  This quest for identity is heightened in Mclean's case as her sense of self and sense of security have been shattered.  The various moves give her a chance to try out her alter-egos, and she takes this to an extreme.  The question presented in "What Happened to Goodbye" is whether she will be able to integrate her current persona with her true nature.  Similarly, we wonder how she will handle the challenge of developing new friendships based on truth, as well as resolving old hurts.

So far, so good.  This hook for the story line is certainly a creative one, and Ms. Dessen's writing draws the reader in. Unfortunately, the story calls for a deeper treatment of its themes, yet the book skims along the surface.

Once you pass the age of 21, it's hard to write dialogue that sounds as if its coming from the mouths of teens.   This is somewhat true of the conversations in "What Happened to Goodbye".  There is something about them that doesn't ring quite true.

One device Ms. Dessen employs to try to make the dialogue seem more "real" is to use mild cursing.  Teens today do hear every profanity known to mankind, but I prefer well written young adult fiction that uses cleaner and more creatively expressive speech.

Who doesn't enjoy a good beach read now and again?  I imagine that "Whatever Happened to Goodbye" was meant to be light.  If that is what you are looking for, you won't be disappointed in "What Happened to Goodbye".  Even though the novel works on that level, I was left with the haunting feeling that it could have been more.


At first, I thought I'd enjoy "Untamed: How the Wild Side of Jesus Frees Us to Live and Love with Abandon". After all, Jesus does call us to follow him, to take up our cross and to deny ourselves, and to live in a way that is counter to our culture's standards. I would love to grow in living more passionately for God, as well as in loving God and others with my whole being. I hoped to find inspiration for living in such a way, as well as practical help.

In one sense, I wouldn't exactly say that Jesus is "untamed" or "wild". In his earthly life, he was completely surrendered to God's will. One fruit of the Spirit of God is self-control. God is consistent with his own nature, which is holy, just, and merciful. However, Jesus is majestic, full of splendor, able to do miracles, the victor over sin and death, and all powerful. Time and time again, he did not conform to the expectations of either the Pharisees or his own disciples.   His teachings are challenging to us today, as well, and to follow him is the greatest adventure.  I think it is in that sense that Harper uses the words untamed or wild to describe Jesus.

Harper shares her heart in these pages, and we can see that she is lively, sporty, bold, and energetic. I can see why she is drawn to this side of Jesus that confronts our limited faith and love and enlarges these qualities within us.

However, I felt that Harper skims along the surface of this subject and doesn't dive very far into scriptural depths. She employs a style of writing that I suppose began with Max Lucado and has been embraced by the Eldridges and other modern writers. I can't think of a word to describe this writing style, other than to say that it is conversational in tone and seeks to re-tell Biblical accounts in a way that is relevant today.

There's nothing wrong with that style of writing, provided that it doesn't get in the way of the subject. When Max Lucado first wrote "No Wonder They Call Him a Savior,", for example, I thought his style added something fresh to the books that were available then. However, for me, a little bit of that style goes a long, long way. It's become so commonplace among writers and speakers that I find it's lost a lot of its freshness. I also wonder if today's teens and twenty-somethings relate to that style as much as my generation did back in the day. That's a question for reviewers younger than I to answer.

In Harper's case, she seems to force certain topics into her paradigm of Jesus being wild. It's as if she chose the theme of "wild" and went looking for examples to back it up rather than as if she studied Jesus and emerged from her study with this theme. I know that difference can be subtle, but it can mean the difference between being shallow and really being based in solid Biblical truth. Likewise, some of her illustrations, such as Mary showing people a picture of Jesus' middle school picture in her frantic search for him, seem as if she's trying too hard to make Jesus relatable and likable. Jesus is compelling in his own right.

If you've not thought much about the boldness, the majesty, the power, and the challenge of Jesus, then you might enjoy this book. 

I received a review copy. My opinions are my own.