Goodbye Days, by Jeff Zentner

Not to brag, but I have always been good at crying appropriately when reading sad books.  When my boys were born, though, any horrible thing happening to a little child became almost unreadable*....and now that they are teenagers, just about the saddest book I could think of to read would be one in which three beautiful boys die and the story is all about the grief and guilt and gut-churning loss suffered by their best friend, who blames himself for the tragedy.  That book just happens to be Goodbye Days, by Jeff Zentner (Crown Books for Young Readers, YA, March 7 2017), and I knew what I was getting when offered a copy, but said yes regardless because Zentner just won the Morris Award for The Serpent King and I am trying to be Open about reading outside my middle grade speculative fiction niche.  Which is how I found myself sniveling softly during my lunch break at work (it really is a good thing, for so many reasons, that I have the basement of work all to myself....).

I'm not going to try to describe the four boys involved; readers should meet them for themselves.  But they were funny, and smart, and talented, and they were best friends.  And one of them, Carver, the main character by virtue of being the one who didn't die, sent a text to the three who were driving over to get him.  And he sent it to Mars, who was driving.  And Mars was texting back when his car crashed, and all three boys died.

The book is about the aftermath of the accident, and it is harrowing because there is just a world of hurt, not just Carver's pain, but that of his friends' families.   Carver spends a day with each of them, sharing things the families didn't know, learning things he didn't know, and working on the long slow process not of healing, exactly, but of letting his love and memories of his friends be part of the new life he has to make without them.  Fortunately for the feelings of the reader, there are lots of flashbacks to happier times that are funny and warm, and fortunately too Carver in the present is able to find help and doesn't drown.

I'd call it un-put-downable, except that I had to put it down because of being too weepy every so often.  But with no caveats at all, I can tell you that it makes some of the clearest, most vivid, character-pictures of just about any book I've read.  You will feel like you know these four boys, and you will grieve for all of them. While I can't in good conscience urge parents of teenaged boys to read it, I think that teens who want weighty and emotional reading will love it.

And they will perhaps be less likely to text and drive themselves, which is all to the good.

There's diversity here--one of the boys is black, another had an Asian girlfriend who becomes Carver's chief mainstay.  There's a bit of  economic diversity included as well--one of the boys had a horrific childhood of neglectful abusive poverty before his grandmother swept in.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*if you have an 8-10 year old-ish boy, do not read Ways to Live for Ever by Sally Nichols unless you want to audition for a role that requires you to look like hell or some such.


  1. Wow, what an intense story. I can imagine how difficult a read it could be, because of how sadly plausible it is...

  2. Goodbye Days is a book I wish was written when I was in high school in the late 90's early 2000's. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wishes to get away from the mundane overdone tropes of romance for something real and special. That's what Goodbye Days is....special.


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