________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2016


Before Goodbye.

Mimi Cross.
New York, NY: Skyscape (Distributed in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son), 2016.
389 pp., trade pbk., $15.99.
ISBN 978-1-503949-72-0.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Amy Westbury.

***1/2 /4



I swim, but it’s not enough. Not enough to drown the buzzing energy. Not enough to dissolve me.

I lift. I run, even though it hurts. But I don’t talk anymore. That’s what it feels like. Instead, I watch. I look. And just … keep everything in. Hold it in. Feels like I‘m walking around with a fire inside. Maybe it will burn me up.

At night I dream about fire and water, but at school … no one knows. Sometimes little bits of the fire seep out, a harsh word here, an incomplete assignment there, and I pull back. Because even though I’m slowly figuring out how stupid everything up until now has been, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m the only one who deserves to be destroyed, although I wouldn’t mind taking Dad down.


At first glance, Before Goodbye could be dismissed as yet another melodramatic story about teens experiencing love and loss. Cate Reese is a classical guitarist obsessed with music as well as her childhood friend Cal Woods when a tragic accident flips her life upside down. David Bennett is the resident jock and popular kid who is secretly racked with survivor’s guilt after a family members’ suicide. Told in alternating voices, this dark romance examines the lives of two teens struggling with grief as an intrinsic bond between them ignites.

     Be assured that this novel is far from the typical teen book about heartache in high school. Author Mimi Cross has crafted an engaging and important story that considers not only how adolescents, themselves, deal with tragedy but also how the adults around them aren't always the supportive emotional rocks they’re expected to be. The complex, yet honest, nature of the novel allows readers to connect with the characters and builds a natural empathy for their tribulations.

     With certain author intention, the story of Cate and David is slowly and lyrically revealed to readers. Although Cates’ emotional turning point is offered early into the novel, it takes some time to get to know David and the depths of his own personal pain. The writing style, with insertions of emails, prose, and poetry, does a beautiful job peeling back the layers of grief and dysfunction both characters carry with them. In fact, one of the most outstanding aspects about the novel is not the focus on pain that undoubtedly comes with tragedy but rather the emphasis on the need for expression of emotions when life gets difficult. In the pages of Before Goodbye, this is most often an expression through music and words. However, it is also music that offers the one drawback of the novel. Although the massive role guitar plays in Cate’s life is sure to be an attractive feature for the musically minded reader, at times, parts of the story can be difficult to follow for those not familiar with music terminology and instrumental performance.

     Before Goodbye is a bold debut with plenty of page-turning angst best suited for older teens and young adults. Be warned: this book carries quite the emotional punch. For some, the intensity might seem to burst at the seams with an overload of “teen issues” including suicide, depression, addiction, sexual assault, and domestic violence. However, the author uses a deft hand when addressing each topic, offering complex consequences for her characters. Nothing is neat or easy here. It is clear that Cross readily values her readers’ intelligence and allows them to contemplate these issues without a fixed moral message.

Highly Recommended.

Amy Westbury is a teacher-librarian at Bruce Trail Public School in Milton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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