Book Review: Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner

Title: Goodbye Days (2017)
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Crown Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 416 pages
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

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?

Review

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.”

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32 thoughts on “Book Review: Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner

  1. Wow this sounds like an amazing book. I will say when I saw the cover I didn’t expect to then read that blurb, it sounds like an incredibly heavy book but from what you said in your review it seems like it was all well written. It’s a shame that the family aspect wasn’t explored more but everything else about Goodbye Days you said in your review just makes me want to read it.
    I’m feeling like for me Jeff Zentner is going to be an author like Adam Silvera, one who’s books just emotionally wear me out because of the issues they handle.
    Great review Reg! 😀

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    • I think I’ve come to expect that from Jeff Zentner, despite him only having two books out so far! But the cover for this one is definitely quite vague, haha – kind of like The Serpent King. And his stuff definitely reminds me of Adam Silvera, except perhaps Silvera leans towards more LGBTQIA+ themes whereas Zentner does more… family stuff, maybe?

      Thanks, Beth. 🌷

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes two books is all you need to gather a sense of an authors style. The cover definitely gave me a more light hearted impression of this story but either way it sounds brilliant. Ohh, if his books remind you of Adam Silvera’s that’s all I need to know to know they’re going to break my heart when I read them. 🙂 That’s all right! 😀 ❤

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  2. Lovely review, Reg! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one – it does seem to be really emotional and I don’t know HOW you don’t cry we reading emotional books? Maybe it’s just me, I cry A LOT I guess ahah and I feel like that one is going to make me feel ALL the feels. It’s a shame the family isn’t more explored in that one though, but I’m glad it was a good read. I’ll read it someday for sure since I love The Serpent King, I just don’t know when…When I’ll feel ready for it ahha 🙂

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    • Thanks, Marie! I don’t know, tbh – I think I just generally feel a sense of disconnect in general, kinda like seeing the characters through a glass wall (or something like that, OMG I am NOT explaining myself well right now). Anyway, I can’t wait for you to pick this up – I have a feeling you’d enjoy it given that you also really liked TSK. 💕

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  3. I wish I could be unemotional when it comes to fictional characters but I always fail. I think that’s why it takes me a long while to muster the courage to read painful books cause I get so emotional reading them. I have The Serpent King and I want to get my hands on this book as well. I’ve already been warned about the emotional punches Zentner throws so I think I just need to have a rip the bandage moment. It’s a shame that the family dynamic isn’t explored more in the book but it still sounds like an incredible read.

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    • Ahh, I LOVED The Serpent King and would heartily recommend it! I really liked this one, too, but for me it just didn’t quite manage to measure up to TSK. I hope you do give both books a chance, though – who knows, one might just resonate with you better than they did with me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds really good! I love flawed, but realistic, characters that are written well and I am glad that this lived up to your expectations. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

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  5. I’m reading Goodbye Days right now. I’m just a couple of pages in, but I can already tell it’s going to be an emotionally heavy book. And I’m definitely enjoying Zentner’s writing style so far; it’s very poetic at times.

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  6. I’ve been hearing such great things about Jeff Zentner’s books lately, especially this one, and I need to read them! Although, this one definitely seems like a read where you have to be in the mood to get your heart completely smashed. I’m such a crier when it comes to emotional books and sometimes really emotional ones can send me into slumps 🙈. Either way, it sounds like such a powerful book. I’m going to have to read it at some point. Great review as always, Reg!! 😊♥

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    • Oh noooo. I’d avoid this one if emotional books send you into a slump, especially knowing that I’m in a slump right now and it is THE WORST. Haha. Anything to avoid that feeling tbh. 😂 That being said, though, I’d totally recommend this – it’s definitely worth reading and I think it’s the kind of book that can really make you think.

      Thanks, Melissa. 🌷

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I’m definitely avoiding really emotional contemporaries right now. I’ve been on a cute contemporary binge after too many heavy fantasy books. 🙈 Oh no about being in a slump though. (that’s me with blogging but not reading at the moment) I hope you get out of it soon! Being in a slump is never fun that’s for sure. 😖 But yeah, at some point whenever I’m in the mood for a really emotional book again I’ll be giving this one a read. You’re welcome!! 😊

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  7. Yes I agree 100%! I definitely loved Goodbye Days, but I feel like The Serpent King packed more of a punch. I cried more in the latter, while for this book, I may have just teared up only a bit.

    Even so, I will always be looking forward to anything else he writes! Awesome review Reg!

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    • Yeees, there’s just something lacking in Goodbye Days! It’s still pretty great, but knowing what Zentner has done with The Serpent King made this one just a teensy bit disappointing in that way. Thank you, Valerie. ❤

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  8. I don’t know why, maybe I like reading about people’s pain, but I have a thing for books that make me cry. I’d rather read a depressing book than a happy book about butterflies because it’s just sooooo interesting to see how people deal with what’s caused them to be sad and how they move on and grow through their grief and struggle. Maybe I’m just evil and crazy, but I do find these kinds of books much more intriguing, so I’ll hopefully read this book soon.
    Love your review 🙂
    Simi ~ simizat.wordpress.com

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