Goodbye Stranger

by Rebecca Stead

Newbery winner Stead masterfully avoids all the pitfalls common in tales of friendships between middle school girls. Her three main characters include Em (who has suddenly developed real curves and the attention they bring), Tab (whose focus has turned to feminism and social justice), and Bridge (an introspective survivor of a near-fatal accident who wonders if there is a special reason for her life). These three swore several years ago—over a Twinkie—to be friends forever, to never fight, and to work through the changes in their friendship over the years. As they navigate seventh grade, they are determined to follow through on that pledge. Three narrators, one of whom is Bridge, flush out the story from different viewpoints. Readers will meet Sherm, the second narrator, and read his unmailed letters to the grandfather he misses terribly. After fifty years of marriage, Sherm’s grandfather has left their home. A third narrator, using a second-person voice, is an unnamed high school student needing to hide in plain sight for a day—who is she and how is she connected to the others? Of course some bad choices are made, including texting risqué photos that go viral; but Em is insistent that the boy to whom she sent them didn’t do it. Finding the culprit is one of the “mysteries” Stead has worked in. This examination of love, loyalty, and friendship explores the differences between each girl’s self-perception and what the world—parents, teachers, and classmates—know of them. Clearly aimed at middle school readers, it should not be added to elementary book lists. It has a special, limited audience for a reason.

Reviewer: Peg Glisson