Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: young adult realistic fiction, contemporary
Format/Source: ARC, ARC tour hosted by Stefani Sloma
Status: standalone

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Can a text message destroy your life?

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?

Okay, the first thing you need to know about Goodbye Days and me is that I am a huge crybaby, and I sobbed almost the entire time I read this book. I had to take breaks so I could breathe and see. Your mileage may vary, but honestly, I think even if you're not a crying kind of reader, you'll still probably tear up a few times.

*starts tearing up even just thinking about this book* *shakes fist at Jeff Zentner* Okay. *blinks and waves hands in front of eyes* I can do this.

Why did I cry so much when I read Goodbye Days? Well, the book starts out at the start of Blake's funeral, which is the last of the three. However, sprinkled throughout the current day progress of Carver's life post-accident are multiple chapters featuring flashbacks the "Sauce Crew". These scenes were EVERYTHING to me reading. They gave the book some much-needed levity since two of the primary themes explored are grief and guilt. These scenes show everything from big moments (the creation of the name Sauce Crew) to small, silly moments (Blake farting [a lot], squirrel rodeo, etc). These scenes are absolutely brilliant because they not only perfectly convey normal teenage boys in a realistic and absolutely hilarious way, but they help readers emotionally connect to Mars, Eli, and Blake.

Without these scenes, without experiencing the bond of the Sauce Crew, readers wouldn't be as emotionally invested in their deaths, and LET ME TELL YOU: I WAS INVESTED. However, these moments are bittersweet because they're SO very wonderful that it hurt all the more to realize, this is just a memory, a frozen moment in time; these guys are actually dead, and there are no more moments like this for Carver. These chapters are also fantastic because Jeff really developed the three. Mars is the artist, Eli is the musician, and Blake is the comedian, but they're so much more complex and well developed. And one thing I really liked about the actual goodbye days in the book is that we get to see these snapshots of the guys not only from Carter's view but also the views of the boys' families. Blake's, in particular, is a joy to witness (because it's the first and also the easiest for Carver to do), and I loved this quote from Blake's grandmother when she's explaining the concept of the goodbye day to Carver: "Funny how people move through this world leaving little pieces of their story with the people they meet... Makes you wonder what'd happen if all those people put their puzzle pieces together" (ARC, page 67) These flashbacks are the puzzle pieces that create developed characters, and it really worked for me.

Carver's development is a little more difficult yet more traditional because he's so emotionally fractured at the beginning that he has nowhere to go but up (or so you think). Readers will see a broken Carver, who feels like he doesn't have a ton of support. After all, his whole crew is gone. Carver has to learn how to stand by himself, but he also has to learn to lean on people who aren't the Sauce Crew, like Jesmyn and his family. Which is good because Carver's story doesn't actually start at the bottom and go up. It's jagged and full of ups and downs like anyone's except when Carver's story goes down, it's because he might be charged with the deaths of his friends, which is an intense burden for anyone but especially a grief-stricken teenager to bear.

I haven't read The Serpent King yet so I had no sense of Jeff's style before I read Goodbye Days, but wow. Now I know why The Serpent King is dominating award lists. Jeff's prose is beautiful and poetic (probably the songwriter coming out and influencing the book writer). I am completely in love with the way he says things. He has a lovely way of phrasing things that I could wholly embrace. For example, one of my favorite phrases in the book is that Carver describes himself as a "beach in November," when he's describing how lonely he feels to Jesmyn, and YES. I totally understand this feeling because I have felt that way before, although I never would have thought to say it that way.

Two quick things I also loved: 1. Carver's sister Georgia is also a damn delight. She's this book's little ray of sunshine. While the scenes with the Sauce Crew are wonderful, they are bittersweet since you know what happens to them. Georgia is a source of strength both for Carver and the readers. She's 100% supportive of her brother and makes statements like how she wants to go beat people up for him. Such a sibling thing to say. She's great. 2. In the acknowledgements, Jeff says Goodbye Days is basically a love letter to Nashville, and I. Am. Here. For. This. Tennessee is my home state, and I went to college just outside Nashville so I spent quite a bit of time in the city. I love it. Carver mentions all these landmarks and restaurants that I love. He works at McKay's which is this glorious used bookstore that has locations in Knoxville (my hometown), Chattanooga, and Nashville. And at one point Jesmyn tells Carver that something feels "Torn-Up Song" (another great description. ARC page whoops I didn't write it down) and says she once found ripped up lyrics in a park to which Carver replies, "that's some Nashville-ass litter," and YES, that is hilarious and so very Nashville.

Goodbye Days is a beautifully written story about grief and love and fate and identity and so many things. It's another fantastic depiction of therapy (Carver has panic attacks and uses both therapy and medication to help. His therapist is great.) in YA, which I appreciate. The characters are complex and well-developed, and the story is emotional and intricate. I can't give it the last star because as lovely as it is, I don't think I could ever read it again (it's SO hard to read), but I do recommend that readers of all ages and life experiences give it a try.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults. He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.

Author Links:

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  1. I'd have my family and friends visit the Library of congress and find my books somewhere in the depths of those massive shelves, take photos and post them online. Then, I'd have them enjoy the best Japanese cuisine they could find.

    1. What a cool idea! I bet the Library of Congress is an amazing place to visit!

  2. So that question is totally morbid, but I kinda love it. If I could have my family/friends do anything to remember me, it would be spend the day at Disney world.

    1. My sister in law LOVES Disney World! I bet that would be her pick too.

  3. I would hope they would have no problems moving on with their life. I really wouldn't want any day of remembrance or even a service.

  4. I think I would get them to throw a party for my service. I feel that I want to be remembered with happiness, not sadness forever.

  5. I cry over books easily, I would need a lot of tissues by hand. I haven’t read The Serpent King yet either, but I’ve heard a lot of praises and have it on my tbr-list. This story sounds so emotional and heartbreaking and beautiful. I also happy to hear that you’ve found portraying of Nashville so true and authentic, it’s hard for me as a foreigner to feel such things in books; I take everything as truth only to discover later that it was all author’s fantasy .Wonderful review, Mary! I can’t wait to read this book.

    1. I think settings are getting more realistic. About 10-15 years ago, everyone was publishing books set in NY (and there was probably a fair amount of googling going on). Now, I think writers are more comfortable setting books near them, and I think that helps create really realistic settings, which I like.

  6. I can't knowingly pick up books that will have me sobbing... Same with movies... (like no Bambi for me...I've watched it once and won't again.)

    1. I can definitely understand that. I actually won't read Me Before You for this exact reasons!