A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Goodbye Days is award-winning author Jeff Zentner's second contemporary novel, also set in Tennessee and also about a group of artistic close friends. The book tells the story of 17-year-old Carver Briggs, who feels responsible for the deaths of his three closest friends, his entire squad of besties who perished in a car accident on the way to pick him up from work. Given the nature of the narrative and age of the teens (they were about to start their senior year), it's age-appropriate that some of the language is strong and the content includes discussions of death, sex, mental illness, sexual identity/orientation, race/racism, partying, and love. There's also a strong messages about the dangers of texting while driving.
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What's the story?
GOODBYE DAYS is author Jeff Zentner's second young adult novel that, like The Serpent King, is set in Tennessee and follows a group of artistic friends. Seventeen-year-old main character Carver Briggs is overcome with grief. His three best friends, aka the "Sauce Squad" -- aspiring artist Mars, guitarist Eli, and comedian Blake -- all die in a car accident on the way to pick up Carver for an end-of-summer tradition before the start of senior year at the Nashville School of the Arts. Carver, a writer, feels responsible for their deaths, because he had texted the driver moments before the accident, and the driver's half-written response was found on the scene. His parents force him to see a therapist. Complicating matters is the fact that Eli's summer band-camp girlfriend starts to hang out with Carver, and Mars' father, a judge, convinces the district attorney to consider filing criminal negligence charges against Carver. Meanwhile, Carver starts to have "Goodbye Days" with the grieving family members, starting with Blake's loving grandmother. On those special days, he does whatever the family wishes they could do with Blake, Eli, and Mars if they had one more day.
Is it any good?
Jeff Zentner once again revisits Tennessee youth, this time in cosmopolitan, diverse Nashville, for a poignant and powerful story about a teen grieving the deaths of his three best friends. The author's second young-adult offering is a beautiful exploration of the depths of grief, the power of finding your tribe, and the complicated, heartbreaking journey of forgiving yourself. From the very beginning, Carver's best friends are dead, so readers only get to know them through the flashbacks, which are in nearly every chapter. It's painful to meet these promising, talented young artists and friends, with their entire lives ahead of them and know that they are in fact gone. So it's natural that Carver is folded over inside his grief, survivor's guilt, and shame. The only person who's willing to be his friend is Jesmyn, Eli's bereaved girlfriend, and soon that relationship also becomes a burden as feelings of friendship turn into something more.
The author packs a lot into the book. Each of the Goodbye Days Carver goes on is like a sociological study in how differently grief affects people. Blake's grandmother is humble and devout; Eli's wealthy parents are outdoorsy atheists busy fighting with each other; and Mars' father is angry and so rigid he forces Carver to run miles and miles. Occasionally Carver seems a little too eloquent for his years, but these are exceptionally talented teens (and the Fame-like school mentioned really exists), and he's a writer, so it's fitting. As heartbreaking as the story can be, there's also hope and beauty and art. And for fans of The Serpent King, there's even a little cameo of our favorite indie guitarist.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the themes in Goodbye Days. Is the narrative voice authentic? Do you think teens can be this mature, self-aware, and reflective?
Discuss the idea of a Goodbye Day. How did each one affect Carver? Do you think the idea of Goodbye Days would help people grieve their loved ones?
Talk about texting and driving. Do you agree with the idea that it's negligent if you text someone you know is driving at the time? Why, or why not?
For those who've read The Serpent King, what do you think of the cameo of one of its characters? How was it fitting to the new story? Also, why do you think it makes sense that this book's cast of characters is much more diverse than the previous one's?
- Author: Jeff Zentner
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: March 7, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 405
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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