Author: Kaira Rouda
Publisher: Spark Press
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman
The Goodbye Year focuses on the senior year of high school for a group of privileged teens and their families in an upscale beach neighborhood of California. It centers around five seemingly perfect families as they try to prepare for the next stage of their lives. While some have to redefine who they are, others have to come to terms with reality instead of what they think their lives are. Some of the students struggle with college decisions and areas of study while others have family issues.
The story opens with Melanie, who recently moved with her family from the Midwest to Crystal Beach at her son Dane’s senior year orientation. There she experiences a full-blown panic attack as she wonders what will become of her now that her children will all be gone from the house, assuming that her son, Dane, gets accepted somewhere. She is so busy worrying about her life that she doesn’t notice that other families have their own issues. Sarah and Jud have a “perfect” daughter and a seemingly perfect life, yet Jud travels a lot, and Sarah finds an unsavory secret about him. Carol and Will live in a less affluent area and clearly don’t have the social status that their peers do, and their marriage is in trouble. Will sees Carol as a strict, structure-oriented taskmaster and seeks someone outside of his marriage in order to feel good about himself. Lauren, the woman seeing Will, is married to a successful car dealer and has a daughter, Kiley, who doesn’t fit Lauren’s expectations. Kiley is a bit overweight, has piercings, and dresses goth. Zoe is a single mom trying to keep it all together so that her son, Collin, has a good senior year. Collin is accepted at NYU and hopes to make a name for himself once he graduates. As the story develops, the characters intermingle and affect each others’ lives in ways they don’t expect or understand at the time.
I was not expecting the story to unfold the way it did, but I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised. I expected a story of a mom who doesn’t know what to do with herself when her youngest child goes to college. How she transitions from full-time Mom to empty-nester is what I expected; instead, it is more of a Peyton Place/Beverly Hills 90210 (the original) experience. It’s fun, dramatic, and sometimes over-the-top, but always engaging. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so engrossed in what each character was doing. There of course are a love triangle or two, some cheating, some deep dark secrets, and betrayal. It’s a fun indulgence to enjoy during a marathon reading session because it really is hard to find a stopping point. The characters are interesting and lively and the whole story is so Housewives of Orange County that it can be enjoyed while still driving home a point. Additionally, while dysfunctional, the characters show warmth, redemption, and grace, which keep the book from being too much of a tacky soap opera.
The Goodbye Year is based on cheating, lies, and deception, so it does have some content that may be offensive. People cheat, students get busted for drugs, and there is some mild violence. A few profanities are used for effect. While not an overly profound book, The Goodbye Year does entertain while providing insight into a time that most of us can recognize and remember with bittersweet fondness. I highly recommend it for mature readers who enjoy a voyeuristic look into how people interact and handle life’s curveballs.