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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"It was still unreal that Em had kissed anyone. It was as if she'd been to the moon. But here she was, still Em. Bridge bounced off the bed and sat in her desk chair, hunching forward to face Emily. "Em, I don't trust him. If he didn't send your picture to David, who did?" "I told you, someone grabbed his phone! I know it sounds stupid, but I believe him. I just do."

There are three stories told here. Bridge is a seventh grader still coming to terms with a terrible car accident in fourth grade. She has healed without repercussions, but it is causing her to rethink her life when most middle schoolers are doing  the same thing. Sherm, her new friend, is having great difficulty with the anger he feels toward his grandfather and his decision to leave his grandmother changing their family dynamic. An older, nameless  high school teen leaves school on Valentine's Day, causing great worry for her family.

That being said, we meet three girls on the cusp of changing relationships. Bridge, Tab and Em have been best friends since Bridge returned to school following a long convalescence. As a set they have only one rule: no fighting. Up until now, they have been able to abide by that promise to each other. But, things are evolving.

Em's body is transforming; she's attracting attention from a boy who wants her to send him a suggestive 'selfie'. She is spending more time with the girls on her soccer team who share her interests. Tab has decided that she needs to be more socially responsible, and also more feminist. She is influenced by an admired teacher, but takes her feminism a bit too far. Bridge is wearing cat ears to school every day, talking with Sherm and sharing his stories. Yes, it's pretty typical middle school stuff ... emotional, authentic, and very accurate.

There are betrayals, and hurt feelings. Vengeance results, and even a fight or two. Communication is at the heart of the story: online picture sharing between Em and Patrick, and then passed along to others, Tab's conversations and interpretations of her teacher's perspective, a cautionary story shared by the teen warning that the future will also encompass change, his grandfather's texts which Sherm refuses to acknowledge. The characters are distinct, and their stories are well told. The teen's story is shared in second person, and in separate chapters. Rebecca Stead carefully connects and resolves each strand by its conclusion.

Middle grade is an awkward time ... it has always been so. It is a change from what is our past, and will certainly be different than what the future holds. This beautiful novel honors those who are making that transition - she does it gracefully and with humor. You should read it! It is perfect for every middle grade reader and classroom.

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