Book Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Can a text message destroy your life?

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.)

This book was heartbreaking and beautiful in the best ways, be sure to grab the tissues. 4.5 bards.

Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia, neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending- one that will rock his life to the core.

Well, if you’ve followed Midsummer at any point on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll realize that Lyv and I are fans of Jeff Zentner. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

To celebrate Zentner’s win of the William C. Morris award for 2017, I decided it was time to revisit The Serpent King and finally do a review.

Let me preface this review/fangirling with the fact that I grew up in the South. I dated a member of a pentecostal church. I grew up with one of my best friends coming from a more prominent family than mine. I was the nerd who lost herself in books constantly. I also worked a part time job while going to school full-time.  So there are a lot of things that I have in common with these characters and there are things I understand from my personal experiences. I think this is why I enjoy reading this novel as much as I do. Yes, there are very fundamental differences, but it takes me back to growing up in a school with just a couple hundred kids in my class.  Not going to lie, Lydia’s thoughts on Nascar are almost identical to mine.  Although I can’t hate on them too much anymore, because they employee one of my best friends.

So, if you haven’t had a chance to read this or even if you aren’t a giant fan of contemporary, I implore you to give Zentner’s AWARD WINNING, wait, did you catch that? AWARD WINNING NOVEL.

Now, on to my fangirl weird head canon theory:

Upon revisiting Dill, Travis, and Lydia I was distinctly reminded of one of my favorite television shows from high school, The OC. Now, other than the obvious differences between the super rich Orange County area of California versus the lower income small town in Tennessee, I’ve kind of fan cast the characters as the main three:

For all intents and purposes Dill is Ryan Atwood.  Why? Well, look at it from a factual standpoint.  Both characters’ fathers are in prison for an undetermined amount of time.  Their mothers work jobs to try and get by and are both high school dropouts. Not only are both Dill and Ryan struggling for money, but they both are musical. Don’t forget that Ryan was in musicals, and Dill is a musician.  Both are ashamed of their backgrounds and are vilified in their communities because of said background. Let’s see, both harbor feelings for a woman that they feel is out of their league, and neither of them think they are worthy of college.

Travis = Seth Cohen.  My first major reason for equating them to one another is because they were both my favorites. But look at it this way, Travis was the only person his age that was a fan of the fictional book series that he constantly talked about, and Seth was the founding and only member of the comic book club at his school.  He was considered the weird nerd for the way he dressed, much like Travis. In addition, his only friends for most of the first season were Ryan (Dill) and Marissa (Lydia). Also, like Travis, a beautiful girl that they didn’t expect to come into their lives and change it, did.

 

I’ll fully admit that my Lydia = Marissa Cooper comparison is much more of a stretch, but here we go: Marissa was considered to be one of the richest of the rich because of her father, just like Lydia was one of the wealthiest members of Forrestville.  Marissa was also a fashionista who set trends and was always wearing some awesome outfits, Lydia is a fashion icon on her website and to the blogging world.  Marissa eventually stopped caring what everyone thought of her after a tragic event in her life, subverting her whole persona, and Lydia also stops caring what her readership thinks of her after a tragic event as well. In addition, Marissa and Lydia both just wanted to escape the cage of their cities so they could be who they truly were. 

And that is my OC-Serpent King fan comparison. Sure, it isn’t a fool-proof comparison, but during this read I just couldn’t get these comparisons out of my head!
4 Bards to The Serpent King!
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