Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

goodbye-strangerRebecca 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.


The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I love Calpurnia Tate.  She is plucky, kind, curious, adventurous and the best sister a shy boy like Travis could ever hope to have. Travis is a collector of animals, an armadillo, wild birds, a raccoon, and a scraggly dog.  He, of course, is forbidden to bring home any “pets,” but Calpurnia sees how much he needs them and covers for him every time.

The-Curious-World-of-Calpurnia-TateI didn’t read the The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, but I felt that she and her family were fully introduced.  Calpurnia lives in Texas shortly after the Civil War, in a very small town.  She is extremely close to her Granddaddy, who fought with the South, but is extremely open minded.  A champion of Darwin and evolution, Calpurnia loves the time she spends with him dissecting an earthworm and a frog, discovering and naming a new species of plant, the Vicia tateii and talking about most everything.  She knows the Latin name for every animal and plant in their area of Texas.

Once when her father gives her some money for her thirteenth birthday to save for her trousseau, she responds, “My what Bed Linens? Clothes? Was he kidding? I searched his face for signs of joshing but there were none.  I couldn’t believe it…How could I be so Misunderstood by my own father?  I was a foreigner in my own home, a citizen of some other tribe, a member some other genus.”  Of course it’s not only her father who misunderstands her;  her mother is always pressuring her to practice piano and knit.

One day while learning about weather and barometers by making a crude one, Calpurnia notices something interesting.  a strange bird, a laughing gull, a strange thing to see two hundred miles inland.  As her grandfather looks at the barometer he becomes alarmed that a terrible storm is coming.  As he hastens to send a telegraph to warn Galveston. Nobody pays attention and the famous Galveston Hurricane causes untold devastation and the introduction of her strange cousin Aggie to their lives.

The thing that most bothered me is that the issues of race relations are mainly ignored.  Of course since the story is told from Calpurnia’s point of view,  it is not surprising that these issues are not pointed out.  Her family has two black women who who do most the house work including the cooking. The kitchen is Viola’s domain.  Calpurnia’s mother pitches in a bit for Thanksgiving, fortified with “periodic headache powders” and told by her husband “not to overtax [herself].”   Knowing that the Civil War has recently ended, her Granddaddy being a veteran, Calpurnia who is so curious about everything, does not seem curious about race relations.  She is quite aware of the injustices done to women, especially when she learns that her six brothers received twice as much as she did for their birthdays.  Perhaps in a later book, when Calpurnia is older, she will start to wonder about race.  Or maybe it’s us the readers who must feel somewhat uncomfortable reading such an overwhelmingly happy story knowing the misery that surrounds the Tates’ lives.