Rebecca Stead has written another extremely well crafted book with authentic characters and dialog. There are two stories, the main one about three 7th grade girls who have known each other since 4th grade. Because Bridge had announced that she was allergic to clubs, that she preferred the term ‘set,’ like in math, “…from then on, they were the set of all fourth graders who drew creatures on their homework. More than that they were friends.” As 7th grade moves forward, you wonder if they’ll stay friends. On club day Em joins the soccer club and becomes a star player. Tab gets engrossed with her feminist literature teacher who also runs the Human Rights Club which Tab joins.
Bridge doesn’t want to join a club, but she joins Tech Crew, “Not a club.” And that’s where she gets to work with Sherm. Shem and Bridge have a secret connection that Bridge didn’t even know about. They have a friendship that is wonderful, leaving room for it to develop. One of my favorite scenes happens on the first day of tech crew when Mr. Partridge has the crew one by one walk on the stage and stand in the middle of the stage in order to imagine what it’s like to be onstage and vulnerable and why actors need the stage crew to be there offstage taking care of them.
The other story line is of a high school girl, name unidentified, who decides to not go to school on Valentine’s Day. That’s the day flowers are given to and received from friends. And she has bad memories of some of her friends, especially one named Vinny who is manipulative. Her day off is described in second person, “You feel for your purse, your wallet, your phone. And your remember. You don’t have your purse. You don’t have your wallet. You don’t have your phone. You can’t go home right now.” Her vulnerability from hurts by friends made me wonder about how long the friendship of three 7th graders would last.
On top of this there are other plot lines skillfully woven in, all about friendship and broken relations. How do friends stay friends as their lives and interests change and how do friends deal with hurt and duplicity. All of the strands of Goodbye Stranger deal with these issues. As with When You Reach Me after I finished it, I was in awe at how skillfully and subtlly Stead weaves various characters and storylines together. Put this on your TO READ list! It’s due out on August 4, 2015. Thanks to NetGalley for making this fantastic book available.