CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 31. . . April 21, 2017
Carver Briggs has a life that anyone would dream of—a loving family, a spot at the prestigious Nashville Academy for the Arts to sharpen his skills as a writer, and a tight-knit group of friends. Devastatingly, Carver’s life comes to a crashing halt, literally, when he sends what he sees as an innocent text message to his friend, Mars, who is driving at the time. Carver’s guilt over the car crash overwhelms his life as he sees himself as being to blame for his three friends’ deaths. Just when he thinks things couldn’t get any worse, he starts to experience panic attacks when he thinks about the accident.
Each person affected by the accident has differing beliefs regarding Carver’s culpability for the tragedy, which is evident in their subsequent interactions with him. His parents and sister try their best to be as supportive as possible, but it is hard for Carver to think positively and deal with his grief when Eli’s twin sister does an effective job of letting him know that he is responsible for her brother’s death each time she sees him at school, and Mars’ father, an influential judge, is pushing for the district attorney to hold Carver criminally responsible and put him behind bars.
Luckily for Carver, some supporters come through in his life just when he needs them—his therapist, Dr. Mendez, who gives him the time and space to talk through his grief, and Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn, who becomes a close friend and ally at school. Additionally, Blake’s grandmother invites Carver to have a Goodbye Day with her, to do all of the things that Blake loved, pay their respects to him, and say a final goodbye. Word of the Goodbye Day travels quickly, and soon the other families are requesting that Carver participate in a Goodbye Day with them. Carver feels compelled to oblige their requests but is unsure of what each day will bring and what the families’ motives are. The question remains—will the Goodbye Days bring Carver and the families of his deceased friends peace and understanding, or will they cause further damage to their relationships and send Carver spiralling down a tunnel of grief, blame, and prison time?
Goodbye Days is author Jeff Zentner’s second novel. His first novel, The Serpent King, won the William C. Morris award, which celebrates debut novels by authors writing for a young adult audience. Writing has always been a strength and passion for Zentner, having established a career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter before branching out to writing novels. He has recorded with a wide variety of artists, including Iggy Pop, Thurston Moore, and Debbie Harry.
This book is a masterfully written piece of young adult literature. It will be easy for readers to get lost in the plot and become emotionally connected with the characters. The content of the book is extremely relevant for the target audience as many teens already have their driver’s licenses or will soon be obtaining them. Texting and driving is an important real-life issue that teens face on a daily basis, and I believe that reading a novel that realistically shows the destruction that it can have on not only those directly affected, but also on families and the entire community would be particularly effective in deterring young people from making the decision to text and drive.
Zentner has developed realistic and unique characters with whom readers are likely to become connected and emotionally invested in their stories. He exquisitely developed them through the detailed narration and the interactions between characters. The development of real, imperfect, and multidimensional characters will allow readers to feel empathetic toward Carver and the families of his deceased friends simultaneously. Additionally, Zentner’s narration not only tells readers what Carver’s three friends were like when they were alive, but also shows readers by bringing them to life, so to speak, through flashbacks of notable moments they shared with Carver as he reflects upon memories of their good times.
This novel will appeal to the target audience of young adults for a variety of reasons. Goodbye Days has it all—a suspenseful plot, realistic and relatable characters, an emotional and moving analysis of grief, friendship, and forgiveness, and meaningful and timely subject matter. The book manages to be suspenseful, serious, and emotionally charged with instances of humour sprinkled in to provide the perfect balance of emotions. This book would be a great read-aloud and discussion piece to tackle themes such as identity, facing tough issues, empathy, differing perspectives, seeking help from a professional, friendship, forgiveness, and grief. Goodbye Days would be a worthy addition to any classroom, school, or home library.
Chasity Findlay is a high school English language arts teacher and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.