Title: Goodbye Days (2017)
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Crown Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 416 pages
Release Date: March 7, 2017
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?
Jeff Zentner is the brains behind The Serpent King, a contemporary YA novel so realistic and unique, it’s still in the back of my mind a couple of months after reading it. Goodbye Days is his sophomore novel, and boy, does it also deal with some really, really tough issues. I mean, the premise alone is enough to send me into a loop of despair — and I tend to be quite unemotional when it comes to fictional characters!
On one unfortunate day, Carver Briggs sent a text message that ostensibly caused a fatal crash, killing all of his best friends: Mars, Eli, and Blake. The story takes him through the weeks that follow as he grieves them three and deals with the criminal investigation that points to him at the centre. While to me it wasn’t as good as The Serpent King, Goodbye Days is still a book that packs an emotional punch, and you better be ready for it.
“The universe—fate—is cruel and random. Things happen for many reasons. Things happen for no reason.”
As our main character, Carver deals with so much in his process of grieving: his growing feelings for a girlfriend of theirs, his disconnection with his parents, his panic attacks, his guilt for sending that text message, his fear of going to jail… and most of all, the fact that his three best friends are gone in what was supposed to be a great last year of high school. It’s a lot for one person to go through, and the book is very, very bleak and even depressing at times.
I’m semi-convinced that Zentner wrote this book to squeeze people’s hearts out and wring them dry. I didn’t actually cry — I’m really not much of a cryer with books — but I found this book incredibly, painfully beautiful in the way that it deals with death. Losing someone is always really, really, really hard, but losing someone in a tragic accident you might be the cause of is an impossible situation, and Goodbye Days approaches that heartbreaking guilt from different angles. It makes you sympathise with all the characters, even ones who are less likeable or more flawed than others. That’s quite a feat, if I may say so.
“It’s funny how memory cuts out the boring parts. And that makes it a good story editor. Sometimes, though, you want to remember every minute you spent with someone. You want to remember even the most mundane moments. You wish you had inhabited them more completely and marked yourself with them more indelibly–not in spite of their ordinariness, but because of it.”
My major complaint was likely because I had such high expectations regarding familial characters after The Serpent King. Goodbye Days, for the most part, seems to really focus on Carver’s internal journey as a person, and while that’s good, I still wish that I saw much more of his family, especially because his sister Georgia was a bright spot in all these dark clouds. It also, despite the more tragic themes, somehow didn’t really touch me as much as The Serpent King did.
Reading Goodbye Days was emotionally exhausting, but it was also very rewarding. Zentner’s writing is beautiful and poignant, his characters so complex and flawed and broken, and the result is a devastating book that delivers emotional punch after emotional punch. Heart-wrenching as hell, but at least it’s insanely quotable, hey?
“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.”