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Coming of Age Contemporary | Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

I’m so glad Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye is a book club pick because I know I’ll need someone else to talk to about this craziness.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

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what happened to goodbye sarah desesn book review

Title & Author: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary

Release Date: May 10, 2011

Series: Standalone

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

How I Got the Book: Book Club Pick


“Who is the real McLean?

Since her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother’s new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combining Sarah Dessen’s trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.”

What Happened to Sarah Dessen?

Long before my blog days, I read several of Sarah Dessen’s other books, including This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever and That Summer. I loved them ALL! Especially, This Lullaby.

So, I’m familiar with Dessen’s work, even though I haven’t read one of her books in a very long time, i.e. during my blog era. When my book club decided we wanted a summer read for our June book club meeting, we all voted for What Happened to Goodbye.

What I found was a story that’s very similar to Dessen’s others: it’s a YA contemporary book that features a female lead who is coming to terms with her life. Mclean (the main character) and her dad move around frequently because of his job (he revives failing restaurants), so in every new school she reinvents herself, complete with a new name, style and personality.

All of Dessen’s books have a certain characteristic style to them, and it’s definitely present in What Happened to Goodbye. What isn’t present, however, is a dynamic. Each scene and chapter flows chronologically into the next, without any real sense of urgency or movement.

It is a beach read in the sense that you can stop reading at any time because there are no real “I can’t put this down” parts. Which really bummed me out. Not all books need to have super gripping or suspenseful moments, but there has to be some drama or intrigue that pulls readers in.

I felt like I was floating along, waiting for something to happen to Mclean (vs. her making things happen).

The Good Parts

On the upside, What Happened to Goodbye does feature at its core a really great issue – identity. In high school, I struggled with figuring out what my “thing” was. Mclean is going through the same thing, but with some outside influences that triggered her shifts from one thing to another (ms. peppy, involved-in-everything to trendy theater girl).

I also loved how food was used in the novel. Beside making me constantly hungry, I liked how it connected Mclean with her dad and her mom in different ways.

The best part of the book was the idea of both letting go and retaining who you are despite what changes your life undergoes. That was really well-done and enjoyable to read.

That being said, the romance was blah. It was a slow burn, but not in a good way. It was zero to sixty in 200 pages, but without really getting to know the love interest that well. I was very surprised by this! I wanted to love the guy in question, but I felt like by the end it was too late. He did make a quasi-grand gesture that was really sweet, though.


I think hardcore Sarah Dessen fans will be happy with the latest from the queen YA contemporary. I was disappointed. This wasn’t nearly as good my favorite books from this author, and I think this book may be too tough to get into for those not dedicated to Dessen’s body of work. What Happened to Goodbye‘s message was well-crafted but the slow plot and lackluster romance did not enhance it.

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.