Goodbye Stranger

Review written by Jonathan Lavallee

My daughter Rowan, who was 10 when I started doing guest reviews and is now 15, tends to like books filled with melancholia. Those usually aren’t my thing, but because she reads them I’m trying to expand my reading habits. Goodbye Stranger is one of those books, and it’s such a wonderful, difficult story that I can’t wait for Rowan to read it because it hits on a lot of topics that she loves now, but it’s also something she could have read 3-4 years ago.

The story is about three friends—Bridge, Tab, and Em—who decide that they are going to be friends who never fight. They make this pledge in grade three, and the story takes place four year later in grade seven. Events take place that affect every one of them individually, which ultimately leads to them having their first “fight.” Which is and isn’t a spoiler—since the book pushes hard over a magic twinkie that they will not fight, it’s the gong sounding that they are going to have a fight. That’s not really the point, though. The point is the journey that they take on the way to their fight, and what they fight about. It’s beautiful because it isn’t about something they are competing over; the fight is about how they handle each other being hurt, and making mistakes.

The book also has a second story narrative the only really kind of makes sense at the end of the story when you discover whose perspective it’s supposed to be. It’s somewhat intertwined and references other characters that are in the story, but it feels rather remote and removed. Like they could not be there, and the story would just be fine. When your tween hits them, be prepared to handle the “what is this” kind of questions that come from it. Beyond those sections, the story is incredibly well written. The characters are fun, and are very different from each other.

However, because of the subject matter you’ll want to read it to see what your comfort level is if you want to suggest this for your younger tweens. The content and the dilemmas are strange, but there’s a lot of focus on relationships and sexuality. Difficult topics are handled incredibly well by focusing on the character’s emotions rather than what happened. There are multiple viewpoints or opinions about what happens in the story, which provides you ample opportunities to talk about the events and why people did what they did.

In the end, it leaves you with this wonderful feeling, this kind of moment you put the book down and sigh contentedly. If your tween is one of those readers who loves relationship stories, then they will love Goodbye Stranger. I might even suggest it if your tween is interested in trying something new. Again you’ll want to be there to talk about the subject matter, but the writing is so pleasant and the characters so interesting that the drama might drag them in.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Nightmare Fuel

Bridge gets into an accident at the beginning of the book. She doesn’t pay attention while she’s on rollerblades and ends up going out into the middle of New York traffic. At the beginning there isn’t much detail, but during the end of the book they describe it in more detail. Nothing outlandishly graphic but it was uncomfortable enough that I winced a few times.

Bridge also has constant nightmares about being mummified and suffocated from her time in traction where she was in a full body cast. Nothing too graphic, but again it might hit one of those terror points for your tween.

Family and Loss

Sherm is dealing with the fact that his grandfather, a very important person in his life, has left his grandmother. Nonno Gio gets letters from Sherm that he doesn’t send, until he decides to send them all in a bunch, where he outlines how he feels about what’s going on and what he thinks. In particular he talk about how he deletes the texts and messages that he gets from his Nonno because he feels abandoned by them.

Bridge talks about how she feels like she lost her old self from before the accident. That’s why she changed her name from Bridget to just Bridge.

Sex and Sexuality

The crux of the conflict between Em, Bridge, and Tab is that Em and a boy named Patrick start flirting by text. This escalates into flirting by pictures and eventually into more and more risky pictures. It ends with Patrick sending Em a picture of him in his underwear at a party that they were attending and Em sending one of her in the same state back. Em tries to enlist her friends to help with the photo, and Tab refuses to while Bridge does on the condition that she never sends the photo to Patrick.

Em does send the photo to Patrick, and someone gets his phone and shares the photo with the rest of the school. This is what causes the first argument between them because Tab thought she shouldn’t have done it at all, and Bridge feels upset because Em had promised that she wouldn’t send it. This leads to all sorts of problems for Em, because there’s a constant string of harassment from both the school and the students. There are boys who end up calling Em a “whore” and a “slut.” The school bans Em from the Valentine’s Day talent show. She also experiences a lot of smaller moments of harassment from the school, like having to wear a lost and found sweater because her spaghetti straps were too revealing. It affects her so much that she knows that they’re making her do this because of the photo, and how they only do this to “bad girls.”

Tab tries to get revenge for what she feels is Patrick’s betrayal of Em. She gets Em’s phone and publicly posts the picture that Patrick sent to the Internet. There both is and isn’t the same kind of backlash against Patrick and it leads to Em, Tab, and Bridge having their first kind of real fight between them.

Friendship and Romance

The idea that friends shouldn’t fight is something that gets brought up at the end of the story when Tab says that, “Maybe they should learn how to fight” rather than being beholden to an idea of what they thought friendship meant when they were younger.

Bridge and Sherm are best friends, and they struggle with the idea of what their feelings are for each other and what they should do about it. There’s a sweet moment near the end of the book when they’ve taken a sleeping bag and binoculars to the roof to look at the moon like Sherm and his Nonno used to do. They talk a little bit, and they both kind of confess their feelings for each other and after a pause Sherm says, “I’m not going to kiss you.”

Tab and Em fight because Tab is certain that Patrick is the one who spread around the photos and Em believes Patrick when he says that he didn’t. Thankfully Patrick believes Em when she says that she didn’t spread his photo around and they’re together at the end of the book.

The mysterious girl whose story is told in the second person is Tab’s older sister Celeste, who talks about how she’s betrayed the trust of one friend who has been a true friend to her, for another friend who is a mean and spiteful one. She falls for the trap of the friend she remembers against the friend who is in front of her now.


This is a wonderful book to read, one that should hit all the right emotional notes for you and your older tween. Your younger tween might be interested in this, but that’s very much a judgment call on your part. If you feel confident that your younger tween can deal with the relationship material, the sexy flirty selfies, and the fall out, then I would highly recommend it. The story rolls forward at a great pace that will keep your tween engaged, with the Celeste sections as the only speed bump the story runs into. Any possibly troubling material is handled in such a nuanced way that it should be easy to have plenty of conversations about topics that are more important to our older—and possibly our younger—tweens than we’d like to think they are.


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Published in 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books
Read as an eBook



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