Goodbye Days immerses us in tragedy. There’s no warning, much like how the tragedy unfolded. Carter is at the final funeral of his three best friends after a horrific car crash claimed them all, contemplating carpet patterns in an effort to put-off the impending wave of grief. He’s numb and worried about how many people blame him, because he certainly does. When Mar’s phone was found, he was replying to Carter’s message. So yes, Carver believes that he “wrote his friends out of existence.”
In The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner introduced how tragedy can come at any moment and how coming to terms with it–if you even can–is something that you can only do yourself. Of course, the people around you suffering from the same tragedy can help you, but ultimately, we all internalize tragedy and how we deal with it differently. This is constant in Goodbye Days. It’s in the moments of forgetting right when Carver gets up, in the moments when he’s doing something mundane–just living–and it comes crashing down on him that his three friends will never be able to complete that comic they were drawing, never participate in another joke, never write another song. Grief and forgetting comes in waves, and the guilt for forgetting is crippling.
Gradually, the grief becomes manageable, but it never leaves. I felt that Zentner was able to convey that perfectly with his writing as he illustrated the different forms that grief takes after a tragedy. Like The Serpent King, it felt real. Contemporary novels tend to deal with real problems that teens go through (the ones that aren’t only about romance, at least), but sometimes there’s an element of it being contrived that keeps me from truly enjoying it. Zentner’s work is not that way. His characters would have no trouble walking off of the pages and onto the streets. They’re that realistic. They breathe. You ache and cheer with them. It’s absolutely incredible and a treat to meet his new characters.
This book is unique in the sense that it has both living and deceased characters. Through Carter’s own words and memories we’re introduced to Sauce Crew: Eli, Blake, and Mars. As he remembers them we’re shown just how amazing they were to the people around them and what their loved ones lost when they died. And that’s where the name of the novel comes in.
“Goodbye days” are a way to say goodbye to the one you’ve lost. For an entire day, you do the things that remind you of them or what they liked doing. Whenever we lose someone, we wish that we could have just one more moment with them. These goodbye days are a way to remember them as you try to let them go. Everyone holds a different part of their loved one–you may know that your friend loved dancing, but didn’t know that they were a secret enka fan. In a goodbye day, everyone comes together and shares those things so you have a complete picture of the one you lost. And then you say goodbye.
Goodbye Days is a beautiful novel that has many heart wrenching moments of the reality of death and how suddenly it can come. It’s even more tragic when people the lives of young people are cut short. It’s a novel with a message, but not one that takes over the narrative. Texting while driving is something that occurs every day, though it shouldn’t happen at all. When it’s a habit to have a phone in our hand, we don’t always think of the consequences of our actions. Carver constantly goes back to that text. Where are you guys? Text me back. It follows him throughout the novel. It’s there in therapy, where he tries to reinforce his guilt instead of forgiving himself for a mistake and it’s there in the threat of a criminal investigation. Zentner shows just how tragic the consequences can be. And there’s no taking it back.
Zentner’s second novel is a force that shows he is one of the contemporary young adult authors to read. With characters and settings that are written with the finesse of someone who knows the setting and has worked with teenagers, any novel that Zentner comes up with is sure to delight both those who follow his career and those new to his work. With Goodbye Days, Zentner is solidly in my list of top contemporary authors.