Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.
Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?
Hooo boy, this was a lot heavier than I was expecting. Not even touching on the themes of culpability and guilt, anyone that has lost a friend as a teenager can relate to Carver’s grief. His grief, that comes in waves, where sometimes you forget for just a moment, is so real that it makes reading this book and relating to him so easy.
The idea of goodbye days was a perfect way to showcase that everyone grieves differently and different people need different methods and more/less time to process their grief. And some people need someone to blame. There’s a lot of nuance to the whole situation, and Zentner writes it beautifully. As much as I feel for Carver, I can also perfectly understand the reactions of Mars’ father and Eli’s sister (and even Eli’s parents). The goodbye days that Carver spends with each of them showcase each of those different reactions. Even though Carver does have to deal with his own grief and feelings of guilt, I think those days are good for him (and the reader) to sit with others’ grief and not just his own, even though it’s hard for him.
I think my favorite part of this book, though, was the focus on mental health and wellness. Carver is determined to deal with this on his own, with only his sister as his support system. But when he has a panic attack out of nowhere (as they usually happen), Georgia starts to insist that he needs more help than she can give him. After a second panic attack at school, he agrees to go see someone. As Carver makes his way through therapy and dealing with his guilt and his grief, we get a clear picture of how therapy works, and it’s not always pretty and perfect. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes you don’t see the point. It was such a refreshing portrayal of therapy
(I was glad to see the references to The Serpent King. Good to know that Dearly is doing well for himself, though the song for his friend definitely turned on the waterworks, so thanks for that, Jeff.)