Review: Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner

goodbye daysCan 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?

Rating: 5/5

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.

A brilliant novel, and one that will leave you utterly shattered – but it is a somewhat cathartic experience, as you accompany the protagonist along his raw journey of grief, fear and guilt. Everyone processes grief differently, and no experiences are quite the same, but I really have to say that the feelings evoked here by the author were a punch to the gut – he managed to capture it so absolutely perfectly.

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.

It’s hard for me to understand how Carver could ever be on the hook for what happens to his friends – in my opinion, it is always, always the driver’s fault if they choose to text and drive. (Zentner does explain the law that could be used to charge him, with regards to negligence – it’s just so unfathomable to me!)

As we sit in the dark and watch, I reflect on the mundane rituals, laid end to end, that form a life. We work to make money and then hopefully use that money to buy ourselves memories with the people we love.

I think I had tears streaming down my face, non-stop, from around halfway through the book all the way to the end. But like I said, it was a cathartic experience. I felt pleasantly drained afterwards. And I bookmarked so many passages that I wanted to quote, that were ultimately profound, or hopeful, or in some cases, just so damn funny.

I guess there’s no manual for coming out of the closet on behalf of your deceased best friend.

While many of the flashbacks with the group of friends were humorous and slightly nonsensical in that teenage boy way, it rings true to life – so many of the in-jokes and hilarious moments that happen in our friendships don’t make sense to anyone else – it’s a “you had to be there” kind of thing.

The goodbye-day with Blake’s grandmother was probably the scene that broke me the most. Holy shit. That’s all.

I also very much appreciated the positive depiction of therapy and medication in the book. Yay for good therapists! Yay for therapy not being seen as something ‘weird’! Yay for a combination of medical treatment and therapy to help someone through their very real trauma! And it sounds pretty minor, but I also liked that extreme nausea was mentioned as part of Carver’s panic attacks, because that was the symptom I experienced the most and most depictions seem to focus on the breathing aspect (or lack thereof). It’s the small things.

Our minds seek causality because it suggests an order to the universe that may not actually exist, even if you believe in some higher power. Many people would prefer to accept an undue share of blame for a tragic event than concede that there’s no order to things. Chaos is frightening. A capricious existence where bad things happen to good people for no discernible reason is frightening.

There is a scene that really struck me, featuring the father of one of the dead boys and our protagonist, which is gutting in its discussion of racism and potential consequences of a court case. I won’t spoil it here, because I think it’s something for the reader to encounter for themselves, but the dialogue, which only ran for a page, was a punch to the stomach.

And that isn’t the only time race is dealt with – I think the author does a good job in pointing out the micro-aggresions in the way Carver interacts with Jesmyn, his friend (and dead friend’s ex girlfriend) who is Filipino.

Speaking of Jesmyn, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the way Carver ended up treating her,, but I accept that 1) grief makes us do stupid things and 2) teenage boys do stupid things. The important thing is he learnt and apologised, so there is that.

If you take anything from this essay of a review, let it be this: Goodbye Days is an exquisite exploration of friendship, grief, and of things lost and found. Highly recommended.

We trade stories of Mars. Some are funny. Some are not. Some uplifting. Some not. Some important. Some ordinary. We build him a monument of words we’ve written on the walls of our hearts. We make the air vibrate with life.

***

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner

    1. Gah, yes. Brace yourself. It’s worth it, but it left me shattered. I haven’t read The Serpent King, but I’m going to be checking it out soon because I’m so impressed with Zentner’s writing.

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  1. I loved the Serpent King but I was a little wary of the synopsis of this one, which sounds a little like those old ABC Afterschool specials. But since you loved this so much I want to read it.

    A little confused — the synopsis made me think he was driving. But from what you said I’m guessing he sent a text that he thought caused the accident?

    Jen @ YA Romantics

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    1. Yup, the synopsis is a bit ambiguous – but our MC is the one who sent the text; he wasn’t in the car.

      I think the book does a good job of not deifying either the dead friends or the protagonist – and there isn’t a ‘message’ per say, the focus is more on the grieving process itself. I haven’t read The Serpent King, but am so looking forward to checking out more of the author’s work!

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