Six Goodbyes We Never Said

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Teens struggle with grief, mental illness in moving novel.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Novel offers readers a powerful window into the everyday lives and struggles of teens dealing with mental illness, but takes place during summer, so readers don't get a sense (aside from a few brief flashbacks) of how the two teens will cope when they return to school and have to interact with students who won't treat them with understanding and acceptance.

Positive Messages

You don't need to be defined by the losses or the struggles in your life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Naima and Drew have had their lives turned inside out not just by their mental illnesses, but also by staggering losses. In spite of this, both become determined to try to be part of the world around them rather than running from it. 


A couple of kisses.


Occasional strong language: "f--k," "damn," "s--t," "hell," "crap."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Candace Ganger's Six Goodbyes We Never Said is the story of two teens confronting mental health challenges as well as profound loss and grief. Seventeen-year-old Naima Rodriquez has OCD, GAD (general anxiety disorder), and PTSD, and she's grieving the death of her soldier father. Fifteen-year-old Drew Diaz Brickman, still processing the sudden death of both his parents and adjusting to a new life with adoptive parents, is battling social anxiety. Despite Naima's determination to have nothing whatsoever to do with Drew, they begin a friendship that will help both of them begin to heal. While Naima is biracial (Latinx and White) and overweight, and Drew is Latinx, their ethnicity and her weight never become significant storylines. The story unfolds in chapters narrated by both teens as well as in the text of voicemails left by Naima's father while on his last deployment and drafts of the angry email replies she never sent him. There's some profanity ("f--k," "damn," "s--t," "hell," "crap") and a couple of kisses.


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What's the story?

As SIX GOODBYES WE NEVER SAID begins, 17-year-old Naima Rodriquez is traveling with her stepmother from Georgia to a small town in Indiana. Her father has been killed during his sixth deployment to an unnamed country, and Naima is going to live with his parents. Naima has OCD, anxiety, and PTSD, and recently attempted suicide. She has tics, keeps a Ziploc bag of marshmallows from Lucky Charms cereal under her bed, and is fixated on the number six. To get through her father's last deployment, she ignored his phone calls, deleted his voicemails, and returned all his letters. Thankfully, her grandparents are loving, endlessly patient, and accepting. Fifteen-year-old Drew Diaz Brickman lives next door to Naima's grandparents and is also grieving a loss. Both his parents were killed in an accident, and he's been adopted by a couple who, like Naima's grandparents, are endlessly patient and accepting. Although Drew suffers from social anxiety, he's recently taken a job at a local bakery and coffee shop and is making sometimes disastrous attempts to interact with customers. Even before actually meeting Naima, Drew's decided that she'll be his true love. But when he makes awkward attempts at starting a friendship, Naima isn't having it. Still consumed by grief, she's certain she'll live with it all her life. But Drew persists, and their growing friendship (although not a romance) begins a healing journey for both.    



Is it any good?

This insightful and sometimes heartbreaking novel sensitively tackles tough issues around teens struggling with both mental illness and the death of a parent. While Six Goodbyes We Never Said is fiction, Naima's and Drew's storylines come from a place author Candace Ganger knows all too well. She begins and ends the novel with powerful messages for readers who may be suffering in silence: "I am you." In the introductory author's note, she writes of sharing many of Naima's and Drew's characteristics, fears, and pains and that Naima's OCD, GAD, and PTSD are "all pieces of me." In the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, she reveals she was hospitalized during the writing of the novel and the gratitude she felt for the help she received from therapists, friends, and family.

While Naima's grandparents and Drew's adoptive parents are a constant source of love and encouragement, parents might want to caution readers that not every teen with mental health challenges will find this kind of family support.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Naima and Drew are supported by their families in Six Goodbyes We Never Said. What did you learn from Naima's grandparents and the Brickmans that could help you be supportive of a friend or fellow student who has mental health challenges?

  • Do you think movies and TV shows are accurately portraying the challenges faced by teens with a mental illness? Are they doing a good or bad job at removing the stigma around mental illness?

  • Has there been a loss in your life that you grieved for a very long time? What helped you to heal?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of grief and mental illness

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