Goodbye Stranger

by Rebecca Stead
First sentence: “When she was eight years old, Bridget Barsamian woke up in a hospital, where a doctor told her she shouldn’t be alive.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up at Children’s Institute
Content: There’s one swear word. And several situations that are more middle school than elementary school. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a fifth grader, especially as they’re approaching middle school.

I’ve been thinking about how to start this. It’s not an easy book to categorize: is it a book about friendship? Yes. About growing up? Also yes. About bullying and the shame girls feel about their developing bodies?Again: yes. About first love and that line between friendship and something more? Yep.

But it’s also more: it’s about doing the wrong thing and making it right. About figuring out who you are in the wake of change. And it’s all done with Rebecca Stead’s beautiful writing.

The story is nominally about three friends — Bridge, Em, and Tab — who have been friends since the third grade. They made a pact to always stick together and never to fight, which is easy until seventh grade. Then Em begins attracting the notice of older kids and boys, and, well, likes it. Tab becomes enamored of a feminist teacher and dives headfirst into the world of equality and civil disobedience. And Bridge is kind of stuck in between. She doesn’t really want to grow up (I can relate), and yet she’s kind of interested in it as well. She picks up a pair of cat ears on a headband and wears those through the fall and winter because they felt “right”. She’s not quite sure who she is, or where she fits.

There are plot points, and chapters written in second person by a “mystery” high school freshman narrator (I figured out who it was fairly quickly. Yay me!), but mostly the book is about every day little things as Bridge is trying to figure out where she fits in this weird middle school world.

I loved it, and I think I did for one reason: I saw both myself and my daughters in this book. I saw the awkward 7th grader I was, and realized that Bridge was okay in her journey, because I survived. I saw M and C in the friends, and the ups and downs of their middle school experiences. And I saw A, as she starts middle school next year, and was reminded (again) of all the changes that will come her way. And for that, I loved this. I loved the smallness of it (and the diverseness: Bridge is Armenian and Tab is Indian) and the hopefulness of it. And I loved that the friends did, in fact, make it work out.

I thought it was marvelous. I just hope it finds the kids who will think that too.

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