Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on March 7th 2017
Can a text message destroy your life?
Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.
Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Jeff Zentner’s debut novel, The Serpent King, was far and away my favorite 2016 debut I read. So, of course, I had extremely high hopes going into his sophomore novel, Goodbye Days. Overall, I was not disappointed! I had a few minor gripes with the novel (and, who knows, they’re things that could change from the ARC to the finished copy), but Zentner has retained his spot on my list of auto-buy authors.
I’ll be up front with you: no book has made me cry as much as Goodbye Days in a long, long time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent at least a quarter of my reading experience bawling my eyes out. The premise itself is just immensely sad– Carver not only loses his three best friends in one fatal car accident, but he also is grappling with crippling guilt due to the fact that he might have sent the text message that ended their lives. Oh, and the father of one of his deceased best friends is trying to press legal charges against him because of his role in the accident. Due to all of this trauma and stress, Carver begins having panic attacks so frequently that they hinder his daily life. The book itself opens with Carver attending the last of the three funerals. So, yeah, not exactly the happiest of circumstances. I felt so strongly for Carver and everything he was going through. Every flashback or memory of his time with Mars, Eli, and/or Blake felt like a brutal punch to the gut. The Sauce Crew (as the four friends called themselves) all had such distinct personalities and interests, and I really loved reading about such a tight-knit group of guy friends (more of this in YA, please!). However, the fact that I grew to love each of these characters so much just made every reminder of their death all the more confusing and painful. The book is told from Carver’s first-person POV mostly through a linear timeline, but there are occasional, shorter flashback chapters. Carver’s voice was so strong; I truly felt every emotion he went through over the course of the book.
The thing I appreciate most about Jeff Zentner’s writing is his ability to write such realistic portrayals of teenage life in the South. His characters just jump off the pages– they remind me of people I knew in high school and even people I’ve met in college. They discuss things real teenagers talk about, feel emotions that real teenagers feel, and generally act like, well, teens. Like I mentioned, Carver and his friends felt so real to me, like people I would be friends with, which only served to make the book all the more devastating. While we’re on the topic of characters, I adored Carver’s older sister, Georgia! Again, she just felt like a real person, and I could totally see myself being friends with her. She always had Carver’s back, and I really appreciated her fierce dedication to her family and to her friends. Jesmyn, Eli’s ex-girlfriend who Carver befriends in the aftermath of the accident, was the only character who wasn’t completely three-dimensional. I still liked her, but I didn’t feel like we got to know her well enough as readers. Regardless, most of the characterization was extremely well-done. I thought the setting of Nashville contributed a lot to the story, too. Plus, it’s set at a high school for the arts, which I always love reading about!
Another thing I appreciated about Goodbye Days was the discussion of mental illness, specifically, panic attacks. Carver begins having frequent panic attacks after his friends’ deaths, usually triggered by stressful situations (like his first day back at school without his friends, with everyone talking about his possible role in the accident). He begins going to therapy, and it’s not just glossed over in the story– Carver’s therapy sessions are well-documented through this book. I loved reading about how therapy and medication (YES to discussing medications to treat mental illness in YA) actually helped him. And, from the panic attacks I’ve experienced in my life, I felt that Carver’s panic attacks were described realistically.
For all the things I loved about it, I also had some qualms with Goodbye Days. There were a few things that just didn’t sit well with me. First off, the characters, Jesmyn and Carver in particular, threw around the words “crazy” and “psycho” to describe themselves and each other quite casually. I have mixed feelings about people who live with mental illnesses describing themselves as “crazy”– as someone with multiple mental illnesses, I would never describe myself that way, but I recognize that mental health is extremely personal, I respect the desires of these people to reclaim a word that’s been used for centuries to describe mentally ill people with a negative connotation. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s ever okay to describe someone else who is living with mental illness as “crazy” or, especially, “psycho.” It just felt… wrong to me.
All in all, though it had faults, I really enjoyed Goodbye Days. I tried not to go into the plot in this review because I think this heartbreakingly gorgeous book is best experienced on your own. I think Carver and the Sauce Crew will definitely resonate with readers, and I can’t to see how Jeff Zentner will break my heart next!
Have you read Goodbye Days? If so, let’s discuss in the comments! If not, do you plan to pick it up?