Details & Summary
Jeff Zentner took the YA world by storm when his first book, The Serpent King, hit the shelves around this time last year. Even though many people recommended that book to me, I never took the time to read it and I’m kind of kicking myself for that decision right now. If I had read it, I would’ve discovered this gem of an author sooner. I don’t have any problems saying he’s an excellent writer after just reading one book because Goodbye Days really showcases his talent.
I decided to read this book because of the premise of the story. Carver sends a simple text to his friends. “Where are you guys? Text me back?”. Moments later, his three best friends die in a car accident. The police find a half-written text on the driver’s phone. This book doesn’t require any kind of suspension of disbelief because the premise is highly realistic and a product of our time: how many (young) people have died because they were using their phone while driving? A lot, I bet.
But while the premise immediately grabbed my attention, I was worried the story would simply be a vehicle (no pun intended) for conveying the author’s moral message: “texting while driving is wrong, kids. Don’t do it.” Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Sure, the message is still there, but the author doesn’t preach. The message isn’t the focus of the story.
The focus of the story is death and grief. More specifically, the way young adults deal with the loss of a friend (or, in the case, friends). Zentner explains it best:
“I’m drawn to stories about young people contending with the enormity of death, leaning upon this intelligence to process it, before they’ve even had much experience with life.
In my first book, The Serpent King, I dealt some with dying.
But I still wanted to tangle more with questions that can attend death: culpability, accountability, survival, memory, loneliness, and how we say goodbye to those we love. GOODBYE DAYS is the result of that desire.”
Zentner definitely succeeds in making his readers pause and think about these important life questions. He does so by telling a realistic and heart-breaking story, characterized by beautiful, thought-provoking prose.
“For the most part, you don’t hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone.”
Aside from the prose, I really loved Carver’s character. The descriptions of his feelings and actions are realistic and believable, which makes it almost impossible not to sympathize with him. To be honest, I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything would be okay again someday.
The “goodbye day”concept was also very interesting. No matter the experience, the goodbye days Carver had for this three friends, where he spent one last day sharing memories and saying goodbye to them, were cathartic and helped him grief and begin to heal.
The only thing I “disliked” were the flashbacks. I understand their purpose – it’s hard to make people care about three dead friends if you give them no sense of what these boys were like when they were alive – but they didn’t work for me. I didn’t really care for them and found myself speeding through those passages. This is very personal though because I rarely enjoy flashbacks.
But that’s about it. There’s nothing else I would change about this story.
Goodbye Days is a powerful, emotional, and realistic book about a teenage boy who’s lost his three best friends in an unfortunate car accident. Throughout the book, he deals with grief, anxiety, survival loss, confusion, and guilt as he says goodbye to his friends and learns to accept what has happened and what role he had to play in their death.