“Our memories of our loved ones are the pearl we form around the grain of grief that causes us pain.”
― Jeff Zentner,
If you've been a reader for awhile, you might know that my mom passed away last summer. It's about 6 weeks away from being a full year, which seems crazy to me. It's been the hardest year of my life. Grief kind of swallows you, leaving you to fight your way back. You aren't the same person any more. When someone close is taken from you, it's like you are broken into a "before" and "after" version of yourself. You are forever changed, you won't be the same, but you try to find a way to navigate yourself back into a person who isn't as broken. So, I think it might be obvious that reading Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner for our May book club was hard for me.
I had tears streaming down my face most of the time. While the circumstances of our grief was completely different, the emotions that Carver has after his friends die is so universal to the grieving process in general. Carver loses 3 of his best friends (Eli, Blake, and Mars), the other members of the Sauce Crew. He's left with guilt over the fact that a text message he sent to one of them could be the reason for their car crash that killed them all on impact. As he navigates this new world without his friends and the weight of the grief and the guilt, he grows close to Eli's girlfriend Jesmyn and helps the families of Blake, Eli, and Mars have a Goodbye Day for their friends. The idea of a Goodbye Day is to share your memories of the person with others who knew him so you can know that person a little better.
“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.”
― Jeff Zentner,
― Jeff Zentner,
Each time Carver had to help the families of his friends with a Goodbye Day it was crushing. Blake's grandmother was so sweet and loving and it broke my heart to witness their sweet and wonderful Goodbye Day for Blake. Eli's was completely different, but still heartbreaking, and the one with Mars' dad was crushing. He not only had to deal with different emotions each time, but also with the fact that some people held him responsible for his friend's deaths, including some of their parents. Like, holy shit I cannot even imagine that level of guilt and responsibility. While my mom died of cancer, and that can't be blamed on anyone really, I think for me, it really hit me hard because one of the things I wonder about the most since my mom died is about all the pieces of her I didn't get to know. I know her as my mom and our relationship was complicated for most of my life, so realizing that other people have these pieces of who she is kind of helps. Hearing family and friends tell stories about my mom help me know her better, even if I didn't get the chance to do that when I was alive.
I think another part of this story that hit close to home was Carver struggling with guilt and panic attacks, something I have struggled with a lot since my mom died. I am on anti anxiety meds now and in therapy (which has helped so much) but when I had that first panic attack, I was sure I was dying. I couldn't breathe and I was at work, so it was hella embarrassing (kind of like Carver and his first day at school without his friends) Jeff Zentner captured the feeling of panic and guilt and grief so perfectly. He also is able to write characters that feel like whole people. We only get to meet Eli, Blake, and Mars through flashbacks and stories, but you really get a feel for who they were and how crushing their loss is for Carver.
Goodbye Days came to me at kind of a perfect time. It was hard to confront my own grief in the context of this story, but it honestly helped a lot. This book will hold a special place in my heart, especially since it was hard to read for me. I think that everyone should give it a chance, even if it can feel heavy at times. Losing someone is one of the hardest things we can ever go through, even knowing it's part of life doesn't make it easier. This book is basically a perfect example of how YA can be moving and funny and heartbreaking all at once, in the best kind of ways. Books can move you and tell your story, even if your story isn't even remotely the same. Read this book, y'all.