What Happened to Goodbye

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What Happened to Goodbye is a young adult novel by Sarah Dessen. The book chronicles the life of a 16- to 17-year-old girl, Mclean, and her journey of self-discovery.

Plot Summary[edit]

The story begins with the narrator, Mclean Sweet, describing the table of her dad’s new restaurant. Mclean lives with her dad, Gus Sweet. Mclean hates the fact that her parents are divorced and that her mom married her dad’s favorite basketball team-Defriese University's new coach, Peter Hamilton. Mclean despises her mom for leaving their family. In her backstory, Mclean and her father have moved three times in the last two years because of her dad’s new job at EAT, Inc. With each of the moves, Mclean decides to take on different personas. Lakeview is their fourth move. Mclean is quizzed as to which persona she would pick––whether it would be the “the perky rah-rah girl, black-clad drama queen, or student government joiner.” But as she begins school, she forgets about all those personas and starts to be herself and attracts new friends, plus a new romance. Gus is trying to rebuild a restaurant called the Luna Blu, which is described as a "Contemporary Italian and old-fashioned good” and in the process he meets Opal. Opal is the type that "[takes] each criticism personally.” She is the manager of Luna Blu and has been there ever since she was a teen. She is very stubborn and likes things done her way. She accidentally accepts the responsibility of making a complex model of the town, which ends up being taken over by Mclean and her friends. Opal and Gus try to rebuild Luna Blu but couldn’t, so Gus decided to close it down.

After living in Lakeview for a few months, Mclean finds out that her dad got another job offer in Hawaii. While she is trying to cope with the ideas of moving for a fifth time, her friends find out about all the different personas she has taken on by discovering that she has four different Ume pages, each with a different girl that they don’t recognize. An Ume page is similar to a Facebook page. Mclean for once is grateful to go to the small beach town of Colby with her mom, which her mom had insisted on doing during Mclean’s spring break. She is relieved to get away from all the overwhelming events that has happened back in Lakeview. While she is in Colby, Mclean overhears her mom telling a friend that she thinks that it was mistake inviting Mclean to come to the beach. Since Mclean feels out of place, she decides to leave her mom’s house to go to the Poseidon, an old, worn out motel that smells like mildew. Mclean and her mom use to spend many nights in the Poseidon, when they took one of their spontaneous beach trips. Confused and in need of a companion, Mclean calls her “two a.m.,”[1] the person she knows she can always rely on no matter what, Dave. In the meantime her parents are worried about her. Mclean’s mom frantically calls her dad. While Mclean’s dad is leaving the house to drive up to Colby to look for Mclean, he sees Dave who tells him where Mclean is. Mclean’s parents both go to the Poseidon. There, Mclean tells them about the different personas she has taken on and, for the first time, they realize how hard the divorce is for her. Mclean’s parents apologize. Mclean also finds out that she misheard her mom when she was talking to her friend. Her mom was talking about not wanting to host a party at her house this year, like she has done in the past.

Following the conversation with her parents, Mclean decides that she will not go to Hawaii with her dad because she does not want to have to start all over again with a new school and new friends so near to the end of her senior year, so her “only option” is finishing her senior year in Tyler, where her mom lives. When she gets back to Lakeview, after her trip to the beach, she finds out her father’s restaurant is officially closing. When Mclean gets home, she hears a woman talking and crying with her dad. She thinks it’s Lindsey, who is an annoying councilwoman her dad was briefly dating, but it turns out to be Opal. She finds out that her dad and Opal have been dating. Two weeks later, Mclean and her friends have finished the model, and her dad has officially been assigned to the project in Hawaii. Opal has submitted her resignation, and once the Luna Blu building is put on the market, she plans on buying it to start her own restaurant. Mclean is packing up her belongings because her mom is picking her up and taking her to Tyler that day. As Mclean and her mom are starting to drive away, Mclean’s mom stops the car and decides she can’t take her daughter away from Lakeview and all of her friends; she can’t make Mclean move again. Mclean moves into Opal’s spare room and finishes her senior year at Jackson High.


  • Mclean Sweet - The protagonist of the story. Mclean’s attitude is cautious but very adventurous. She wants to become her own person, not a made-up idea of a character. Mclean is a senior in high school and is still grieving over her parents' horrible divorce. She has moved four times with her dad in the past three years, since her parents' divorce.
  • Dave Wade - Mclean’s intelligent neighbor. He is a “boy genius who skipped, like, all of junior high and was taking college courses.” To his parent's dismay, he decided to transfer from an elite private school to a public school because he wanted to have a normal high school experience. Dave owes community service because he was caught underage drinking, so he spends a lot of time working on the model of the town to fill his requirements. Mclean and Dave start dating towards the end of the book and fall in love.
  • Gus Sweet - Mclean’s father. He is an attractive man with blue eyes and longish hair, which women are drawn to. He has been divorced for two years. He was a huge fan of Defriese University basketball team, which is an understatement because “he lived and breathed DB”,[2] until his ex-wife fell in love with the coach. Gus used to own a restaurant in Tyler with his ex-wife, Katherine Hamilton, called Mariposa Grill. He decided to sell it and take a consulting job with EAT INC. His new job takes him all over the country.
  • Katherine Hamilton - Mclean’s mom. She came from a very wealthy family that she gave up when she married Gus Sweet. She used to own a restaurant in Tyler with her ex-husband, Mariposa Grill. She left him when she fell in love with the Defriese University basketball coach. She married him and they have twins. She wants to connect with Mclean, but Mclean feels like she ruined their family and doesn’t like to talk to her.
  • Opal - The manager of Luna Blu. She has worked there since she was a teenager and doesn’t like how much Gus is changing it. She ends up dating Gus towards the end of the book. When Luna Blu closes down, she buys the building and opens her own restaurant there. She lets Mclean move into her spare bedroom, so she can finish up her senior year at Lakeview.
  • Deb - One of Mclean’s new friends from school. She has a very peppy attitude and before Mclean came to Lakeview, Deb did not have any friends. She takes control of building the model of the town and later becomes a waitress at Opal’s new restaurant.
  • Peter Hamilton - Mclean’s stepfather. He is the new head coach of the Defriese University basketball team. He is laid back and only says what is needed. He is usually busy either taking calls or answering press questions.
  • Lindsay - A councilwoman in Lakeview. She and Opal have been rivals since high school. She assigns Opal to make the model of the town, and she briefly dates Gus.
  • Riley Benson - Dave’s childhood best friend. She and Dave have matching tattoos on their wrists. Riley and Mclean become friends.
  • Heather - One of Mclean’s new friends. She has a sassy attitude and is not afraid to say what ever is on her mind.
  • Ellis - Another of Mclean's friends. He ends up becoming closer to Riley and it is insinuated that they have either begun dating or will in the near future.
  • Maddie and Connor Hamilton - Mclean’s half siblings. Maddie and Connor are twins. Their father is Peter Hamilton and their mother is Mclean’s mother, Katherine Hamilton.

Major Themes[edit]

A recurring theme in What Happened to Goodbye is the search for self-identity.[3] For example, in their review of the book, Seventeen Magazine noted that, “if you’re having any pangs of I-don’t-know-who-I-am, Mclean’s journey might feel both familiar and inspiring to you.”[4] Other critics have described the book as “A tale of self-identity”[5] and as a novel that addresses “how important our identities are”[6] Another important theme in the novel is family relationships. In one review, Pamela Kramer from the Examiner noted that “what the reader learns through Mclean is the importance of family."[7] A reviewer from Galley Smith added that the novel has “many common themes relating to children of divorce and family dynamics."[8] Another important theme in What Happened to Goodbye is friendship. One reviewer stated that “working together on an intricate model of the community is a not-so-subtle metaphor for Mclean building an emotional community for herself”,[9] Dessen emphasizes friendship throughout the novel by “having the characters reach out to one another to forge genuine relationships."[10]


What Happened to Goodbye has mostly received positive reviews. Critics have praised Dessen’s way of making her characters realistic. Critic Melissa DeMoux said that each character really “resonates with the reader”."[11] Dessen’s books are aimed toward teens because she focuses on the “exploration of a teen’s life”.[12] The Horn Book Magazine said that Dessen “creates a comfortable space for young adults struggling with identity, relationships, and all that messy family stuff”.[10] Readers can relate to the characters because they are “realistically flawed” according to reviewer Galley Smith [13] and LA Times Reviewer Susan Carpenter described Dessen's writing as “ remain[ing] true to modern adolescence”[14]

Many reviewers focuses on Dessen's effective character development. The LA Times said that Dessen “avoid[s] the usual cliches for such characters,"[14] which makes them come to life. Not only can readers relate to the characters, but they can also relate to the situations they are faced with. Seventeen Magazine notes that Dessens “ability to write about serious issues in an upbeat manner allows teen to relate to situations they face”.[15] Critics praise Dessen’s ability to create well-developed characters. Publisher Weekly commented that “the depth of her well-developed characters grabs readers’ attention and leaves them anxious for each new release”.[16] The supporting characters are as well developed as the main characters. Common Sense commends Dessen for having a “strong supporting cast”.[17] All of the characters have very “distinct personalities”.[18] Even though some critics felt like the characters were well-developed with definitive and unique personalities, critic Joceline Farrah felt like they didn’t get a “strong sense of personality”, which made them feel like they didn’t get to know the characters.[19]

Critics note that Dessen writes in a simple format, but still adds depth and complexity to her novels. Galley Smith commented that “What Happened to Goodbye has some simple plot elements yet still manages to be surprisingly complex”.[13] Publishers Weekly also points out that Dessen does not use “complicated dialect”,[16] which can distract the reader from the main plot. Karen Elliot of Library School Journal also criticized the “slight lack of tension... which keeps it from being truly compelling”.[20] Publisher Weekly commented that it has an “emotional punch to a long narrative that doesn’t otherwise have much of an arc”.[21] Common Sense reviewer Darienne Stewart said that the weak conflict causes the story to ramble.[17] Common Sense point out that it is very repetitive because Dessen “[draws] unnecessary circles”[17] She similarly notes that “Dessen often skips backward and forward in the narrative”,[17] which can be confusing for the reader.

Allusions to Other Books[edit]

  • During lunch on Mclean's first day, she mentions that there is a blond girl and a very tall broad shouldered guy, sharing earphones with an iPod. This is Annabel and Owen from Just Listen.
  • Jason from The Truth About Forever and Along for the Ride reappears. It is revealed that he dropped out of Harvard. Dave and Jason both went to Brain Camp.
  • Heidi from Along for the Ride is good friends with Mclean's mother.
  • The blonde woman who opens up the Last Chance Grill and Bar is Isabel from Keeping the Moon.
  • Gervais Miller from Lock and Key is mentioned as having once been Dave's only friend. He got his nickname "Gerv the Perv" from Riley because he was always staring at her chest.
  • The social network UMe was created by Jamie from Lock and Key.
  • "Gerts" bracelets are worn by several characters in The Moon and More
  • In Saint Anything Dave talks Sydney into buying complicated drinks at Frazier
  • Deb is the self-proclaimed ambassador who welcomes Sydney on her first day at Jackson High in Saint Anything
  • Luna Blu is mentioned as the favorite restaurant of Sydney's family


  1. ^ Dessen, p. 215
  2. ^ Dessen, p. 7
  3. ^ Carpenter, Susan (8 May 2011). "not just for kids: 'what happened to goodbye' by sara dessen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Lutz, Rachel (10 May 2011). "check out sarah dessen's new book!". Seventeen. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  5. ^ Carpenter, Susan (31 May 2011). "acceptance after divorce: outsider works through problems in dessen's newest novel". Knoxville News Sentinel. Knoxville. 
  6. ^ Farrah, Joceline (16 May 2011). "what happened to goodbye- sara dessen (by Kiona - pseudonym)". Y.A. Reads. Retrieved March 15, 2012. 
  7. ^ Kramer, Pamela (12 June 2011). "what happened to goodbye by sarah dessen". Examiner.com. 
  8. ^ Andi, Laura, Michelle (18 May 2011). "sarah dessen- what happened to goodbye". Galley Smith. Retrieved March 17, 2012. 
  9. ^ Elliot, Karen (June 2011). "What Happened to Goodbye". School Library Journal. 57 (6): 114. 
  10. ^ a b Adams, Lauren (August 2011). "what happened to goodbye". The Horn Book Magazine. 87 (4): 147. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  11. ^ DeMoux, Melissa (7 May 2011). "'What Happened to Goodbye" is compelling drama". Deseret News. Salt Lake City. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Bradburn, Frances (1 May 2011). "What Happened to Goodbye". Booklist. Booklist: 416. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  13. ^ a b "Sarah Dessen- What Happened to Goodbye". Galley Smith. 18 May 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Carpenter, Susan (8 May 2011). "Not Just for Kids: 'What Happened to Goodbye' by Sarah Dessen". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  15. ^ Lutz, Rachel (10 May 2011). "check out sarah dessen's new book!". Seventeen. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "Galley Talk: 'What Happened to Goodbye'". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c d Stewart, Darienne. "What Happened to Goodbye". Common Sense. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Squicciarini, Stephanie (October 2011). "What Happened to Goodbye". School Library Journal. School Library Journal: 77. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  19. ^ Farrah, Joceline (16 May 2011). "What Happened to Goodbye- Sarah Dessen (by Kiona - pseudonym)". YA reads. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  20. ^ Elliot, Karen (June 2011). "What Happened to Goodbye". School Library Journal. School Library Journal: 114. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  21. ^ "What Happened to Goodbye". Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly: 134. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 

External links[edit]