Title: Goodbye Days
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Crown Books | Penguin Random House
“Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.
Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.
Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?”
It must be said right off the bat – Goodbye Days is sad af, y’all. But really, how could a book about a boy who loses his best friends be anything other than heartbreaking? Jeff Zentner manages this with a deft hand, and gives Carver (and the reader) enough hope and support to keep going.
Goodbye Days features two things that do not get enough representation, especially in YA: positive, supportive male friendships and actually present parental figures. The group dynamic between the “Sauce Crew” – Carver, Mars, Blake, and Eli – is beautifully portrayed, and something I cannot remember coming across before. They’re teenage boys, so there are plenty of fart jokes, but there’s also an undeniable closeness between them. These boys are open and honest with each other, and it’s so refreshing to see close male friendships in YA.
Often in YA, parents are either nonexistent or uninvolved, which is an even greater indication of fiction than love triangles, in my opinion. An unexpectedly wonderful part of Goodbye Days is that there are cases of parental figures that are involved in their children’s lives and present in their grief. Not only do we have Carver’s parents who are desperate to protect their son from potential criminal charges, but the parents (and Nana, in Blake’s case) of Carver’s friends spend their “goodbye days” with Carver. Through those parents, the reader experiences many different types of grief, and sees how loss affects everyone differently. While I certainly enjoyed certain parental figures more than others (hello Nana, peace out Eli’s dad), I appreciated that we had so many parents in this book. YA authors, take note.
There is amazing representation not only of the painful mix of grief and guilt Carver experiences, but also therapy and anxiety. I loved that we see Carver seek help for his panic attacks, and that he seeks out a therapist and medication combination that helps him. The scenes in which Carver has a panic attack were so powerful, because I have been there before and thought I am going to die I cannot possibly survive this. Zentner doesn’t shy away from the harder aspects of grief, and I liked that Carver is still a flawed human being and isn’t beatified through his suffering.
There were a few moments where I thought Goodbye Days stumbled. While I loved Jesmyn as a character, I think the story could have done without a romantic subplot. I would have preferred to see a strong male/female friendship without any romance. Zentner manages to maintain a balance that keeps Goodbye Days from being unbearably sad, but there are times when it almost strays into tragedy porn territory. I think it’s because there are three different goodbye days, with Carver’s own experience, and Jesmyn’s, and then an overarching theme of grief. It was just a bit much at times, for me. Carver sounds a bit too adult and wise for his seventeen years, traumatic events aside, and there’s a propensity for him to wax philosophically in order to end a chapter on some profound note. Even though Carver is a writer, this felt a bit heavy handed.
In terms of inclusivity, the majority of the cast of characters is white. Jesmyn is Filipino, and Mars and his dad are black. One character self-identifies as gay (although his coming out is the extent of that representation, full disclosure), but the rest are implied/assumed to be cishet.
Rating: 4 stars
*I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.