Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: "Goodbye Days" by Jeff Zentner

"Where are you guys? Text me back?"

Carver Briggs sent that text to his best friend Mars, who was driving home from a movie with their two other best friends, Eli and Blake. Such an innocuous text. Mars was replying to Carver when his car rear-ended a stopped truck. Mars, Eli, and Blake were all killed in the accident.

It is unbelievable to Carver that his three best friends are dead. He is devastated at the thought of spending his senior year in high school, and his whole life, without them. Even when they did nothing but play video games and make fun of each other, Carver felt like he was part of something.

"There's that feeling that you'll never be lonely again. That every time you speak, someone you love and who loves you back will be listening. Even then I knew what I had."

But as much misery as he feels, Carver's guilt outweighs everything. Eli's twin sister tells everyone she can that Carver murdered her brother, Blake, and Mars, so many people in their community look at him with disgust. And when word comes down that Mars' father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the accident, and it's entirely possible Carver could be found negligent, it's more than he can bear. Convinced he will be going to jail for murdering his friends, he begins suffering panic attacks, which scare him.

"We assume that it's better to survive things, but the ones who don't survive don't have to miss anyone. So sometimes I don't know which is better."

No matter how alone he feels, Carver isn't left to deal with these issues by himself. In addition to his tremendously supportive older sister, Carver begins spending time with Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend, and the two find themselves leaning on each other more and more as they try to make sense of their loss. He also confides in his therapist, who has an interesting tactic to try and help Carver cope, and Carver also finds both joy and sorrow in spending time with Nana Betsy, Blake's grandmother, who raised him.

One day Nana Betsy asks Carver if he'd be willing to spend a "goodbye day" with her—one last chance to do the things Blake liked to do, to share memories of him, and give the two of them the chance to say goodbye that they never had. As much as he believes this might bring him closure, he worries if his guilt will get the best of him. He just keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, to discover that someone is trying to make him pay for what they believe is his role in the accident.

How can you process an overwhelming loss when you are consumed by guilt, even fear? How do you start forgiving yourself if you don't think you deserve forgiveness, but you're not sure you deserve to be punished either? How do you know whom to trust, and how can you distinguish feelings of security and companionship from something else? And how do you find the strength to carry on when one of the most integral and important pieces of your life is torn away?

"Funny how people move through this world leaving little pieces of their story with the people they meet, for them to carry. Makes you wonder what'd happen if all those people put their puzzle pieces together."

Well, as you might imagine, this book tore me apart emotionally. But as much as my eyes burned from all of the crying, and my heart hurt, I found this book beautifully hopeful as well. Even if I didn't necessarily agree with how all of the characters behaved, and even if some of the plot was more predictable than I would have liked, the momentous sense of loss, the poetry of the boys' friendship and how much joy they experienced, made this book much more than a sob-fest for me.
That's all because of the talent of Jeff Zentner. Zentner, whose first book, The Serpent King (see my original review) was one of my absolute favorite books last year. Even when his characters are a bit more erudite than your typical teenager, they quickly shift back into immaturity, thus further occupying your heart. I don't know what I'd like more from this book—a prequel, in which we could spend more time with the four boys, or a sequel, in which we could see how Carver is coping.

Goodbye Days is as much about the poetry of friendship, of belonging, as it is the geography of loss. The combination of both makes this an emotional yet resonant read, that I'll remember as much for all of the tears I shed as for the laughs and the smiles. But all that aside, DON'T TEXT AND DRIVE!! EVER!!

No comments:

Post a Comment