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The Good Goodbye


The Good Goodbye

Rory and Arden have always been more like sisters than cousins. Only a few months apart in age, the two girls’ families have always been close. Their fathers are brothers; Rory’s dad, Vince, and Arden’s mom, Natalie, run a restaurant together. Even though outgoing Rory is more popular and artistic Arden is sometimes awkward, they always stick up for one another, for better or for worse. However, as the girls prepare to attend college on different coasts --- Arden is bound for art school in California, and Rory is realizing her lifelong dream of attending Harvard --- they’re facing the prospect of being apart for the first time in their lives.

But all that changes in an instant, as Rory’s dad’s bad investment means that not only the restaurant but also both families’ finances are in serious jeopardy. Suddenly, the girls’ college dreams are on hold, and they find themselves sharing a crummy dorm room at the local public university.

"THE GOOD GOODBYE shares some similarities with a mystery novel...but it also offers plenty of thematic richness to accompany its suspenseful plot."

Natalie is sure that the girls are making the best of a bad situation, even if she has been a bit distracted lately by trying to save the restaurant and taking care of Arden’s twin younger brothers. But when a dorm fire --- caused by suspected arson --- and subsequent fall land both Rory and Arden in the ICU, Natalie begins to wonder what secrets her daughter and Rory have been keeping.

Told in alternating chapters from Natalie, Rory and Arden’s points of view, the narrative freely moves back and forth between events leading up to the fire and the intense scenes that play out in the hospital afterwards. There’s a lot going on here --- multiple love triangles, lies and betrayals, opportunities for forgiveness and second chances --- and this, combined with the nonlinear way that the story is told, can be disorienting at times for the reader. This experience, though, mirrors the journey of the characters, all of whom are experiencing more than a little disorientation of their own.

THE GOOD GOODBYE shares some similarities with a mystery novel --- readers don’t find out until almost the end what actually happened in that dorm room and why --- but it also offers plenty of thematic richness to accompany its suspenseful plot. Rory and Arden’s story underscores the difficulties facing young adults struggling to define and construct their own individual identities apart from their families; it also, of course, dramatizes how difficult it is to truly know even those we should know best. Carla Buckley also explores what it means to be a “good” mother, daughter and friend, all set amid the kind of tragedy no reader ever wants to imagine.  

Some readers may find the novel’s resolution jarring in its rapidity, especially given the relatively unhurried pace of the rest of the novel. Nevertheless, they will find their thoughts returning to the story, especially its affecting final scenes, long after it comes to a close.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 15, 2016

The Good Goodbye
by Carla Buckley