Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Published by: Penguin Random House
Released: April 6 2017 (US) April 18 2017 (Australia & UK)
Read: April 5 2017
Teenagers dying in random, shocking accidents have been a constant in my YA contemporary reads for the past 18 months. It’s a rare book that doesn’t include the grief/loss trope as a way to explore the feelings and actions of the teens who are left behind to ponder their existence and the meaning of life.
Not all books do it well.
Goodbye Days does it exceedingly well. Yes, I am tired of sore eyes, and waking up to thoughts of trauma and emptiness, but today I am also grateful for those same things – I have cried so much I couldn’t read the words on the kindle. I have thought about the characters, while awake and while trying to fall asleep, and I wonder why this book has affected me so profoundly when others leave me sad but not consumed.
There are a couple of factors I can think of.
Zentner instils his three dead characters with so much life, right up to the final chapter that, just like Carver, I mourn their loss, I miss their antics, I grieve for the waste. And just like Carver, I long to celebrate their creativity, their intelligence, their joy. We spend a lot of time with Blake, Eli and Mars. We know them well by the end, and their passing hurts.
Carver is another strong component of the novel. His feelings are laid bare. As a writer, he is able to articulate every fear, every shameful thought, and every scared moment. His loneliness without his three best friends is exacerbated by the hostility from Eli’s twin sister Adair, who isn’t the only one who blames Carver for the accident. Carver himself feels responsible, but it’s Mars’s father who pushes for a criminal investigation into the ordeal.
With that threat hanging over him, Carver finds solace befriending Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn, herself devastated and lost. Together they navigate the trials of Carver’s panic attacks, Jesmyn’s preparation for a Juilliard audition, and something invented by Blake’s Nana Betsy called the goodbye days. She invites Carver to join her on a day where they experience many of Blake’s favourite activities and food. It’s cathartic, but it also forces Carver to confront his guilt, and to share things about Blake that his grandma didn’t know.
This sets up similar days with Eli’s parents and Mars’s father. Each day is different, and each opens Carver up to more hurt, more memories, and while some readers might feel manipulated, I felt moved by powerful emotions. I felt Carver’s unassailable and overwhelming pain, and most of all, I wanted to see him through this. Admittedly, through the novel, he does some stupid things, and says some regrettable words, but overall, he proves to be a true friend.
You can probably figure out that I was caught up in this book, and was surprised by its power over me. Copy provided by the publisher and Netgalley. It’s out today in the states, and in a couple of weeks here in Australia.
Recommended to readers who want to be utterly at the mercy of strong and painful emotions, who want their main characters to be honest with themselves, and who fight to overcome their fears. The female characters are strong and do not put up with anything other than respect. The adults are flawed, and try to make the best of a tragic situation. Each one offers something, most significantly Carver’s therapist, who is an amazing support for him.