What Happened to Goodbye



Thoughtful look at teen finding self after parents' divorce.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teens who read this book may be interesed in the author's other YA novels, several of which are reviewed on this site. Parents can use the questions in the "What to Talk About" section to encourage more discussion.

Positive messages

Honesty and sincerity help Mclean break down some of the walls she’d built around herself and connect with people authentically. She realizes that while she can pretend she can go it alone, it’s through connecting with other people -- family and friends -- that she feels at home in the world. As her relationships deepen, she realizes how people can be much more complex and surprising than they first seem.

Positive role models

Mclean, though a bit of an emotional mess, is a very capable teen. She runs the household and handles much of the logistics during each move because her dad is so busy. She resists peer pressure and reaches out to Deb, introducing her to a growing circle of friends who appreciate her quirkiness and strengths.  

Not applicable

This story is about a family torn apart by a parental affair. There are a few references to people making out, including a parent, and some very mild kissing scenes.


Mild curse words and occasional coarse language, including a car dubbed “Super S--tty.”

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Alcohol use is treated very casually. One boy, arrested when caught drinking beer, is pitied by his friends for his parents’ strict response.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this story is about a family torn apart by an affair. The heroine’s parents divorced after her mother began an affair with a well-known basketball coach, resulting in a very public scandal. The teens have a very casual attitude toward drinking alcohol. One boy is under close supervision by his parents after getting arrested for drinking at a party, and his friends contend his parents’ response is draconian. The capable protagonist Mclean has problems but she realizes that connecting with other people -- family and friends -- makes her feel at home in the world. As her relationships deepen, she realizes how people can be much more complex and surprising than they first seem.

What's the story?

Mclean and her dad set up house in a new town every few months, rootless and adrift in the wake of her mother’s affair with the coach of their favorite basketball team. While her mother starts a new life with a wealthy husband and two babies, Mclean struggles to find her own path. She feels protective of her father, pulled and pushed by her mother, and wary of feeling tied down by anyone as college gets closer and closer. With each move, she adopts a new persona: cheerleader, student organizer, drama kid -- until she arrives in Lakeview, where she finds herself making friends who really matter to her. As Mclean begins to lower her defenses, she starts to rediscover herself.

Is it any good?


Older tween readers will appreciate the authentic voice and realistic characters in this rambling but touching story. There’s much for them to connect with, including out-of-touch parents distracted by their own drama who leave their daughter to stumble along more or less on her own. This is familiar territory for Sarah Dessen, who again skillfully taps into the emotional life of teens. The characters are both eccentric and familiar, defying easy stereotypes. The storytelling is sometimes convoluted -- Dessen often skips backward and forward in the narrative, drawing unnecessary circles -- but on the whole it’s a well-told character study with a strong supporting cast.  

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what drew them to this book. Have you read Sarah Dessen's other novels? If so, how does this one compare? Why do you think her work resonates so well with teen audiences?

  • Also, this book portrays alcohol use by teens as a minor, normal, no-big-deal issue. Do you think that's accurate, and a way of giving the story some authenticity? Is YA media at all responsible for shaping teen behavior?

Book details

Author:Sarah Dessen
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:May 10, 2011
Number of pages:402
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Read aloud:12
Read alone:12

This review of What Happened to Goodbye was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 12 years old March 29, 2013

A Great Read!

This book is a very good book, but I suggest that kids wait to read it until they are teens, or if they are mature pre-teens. This book is one of my favorites that Sarah Dessen wrote. But, I believe that you will get the most out of it if you wait until you are a bit more mature. This book is very thoughtful and it makes you ask yourself questions. There is a bit of inappropriate behavior, but as I said before, if your kid (or: if you) are mature, than you should be able to handle it.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bycandylover56 July 20, 2011

Great read

What happened to goodbye is a great read, so much so thatI couldn't put the book down. I highly recommend it!
Kid, 12 years old June 9, 2011

Nice Book

This book is great! The bad things are not very extreme. Only kissing and flirting. But, alcohal is very casual. All these kids (underage) get together and drink. Theres this one kid, who's parents are really protective about drinking. He is a good role model because it shows that he is very smart and got into very good universities. So, it can make a good path for kids.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide