One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts.
The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.
Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.
Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.
Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?
I was super nervous about reading this book for two reasons. One is I’ve seen so many great reviews of this book. Which is awesome! Just a little more pressure as a reviewer. I want to bring something to the table that hasn’t already been said a million times and also it can sometimes feel like pressure to really like a book that everyone else finds so moving.
I was also nervous for a really weird reason. My own manuscript features a guitarist named Eli. Okay, that’s not so weird. He’s also dating an adopted Asian girl. And he gets into a serious car accident. Believe it or not, this has kind of happened before. I read a book about two brothers, one named Eli, who get into a car accident, and just like in Goodbye Days, Eli dies. For some reason, that story hit really deep. I had a really hard time reading it, not because the story was bad, but because it snowballed into something like a crisis of confidence for me. Which was not cool. But anyway. None of that has to do with how I felt reading Goodbye Days other than to give you some background.
Goodbye Days is, more than anything else, an emotional journey. There’s not much in terms of big, intense plot. It’s a lot more subtle, gentle movement through a boy’s incredible grief when he suddenly loses all three of his best friends and faces his fear that their deaths might be his fault.
I think often grief doesn’t get enough appreciation in our instant-gratification culture. Grief is hard. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable—not only to the person experiencing it, but to the people around them. Goodbye Days paid a worthy homage to the difficult journey of suffering and loss while still showing the value of having loved in the first place and the hope that lights the end of the dark tunnel of grief.
There were a couple of plot elements that I struggled to buy into. At one point, local police open an investigation into the accident, warning Carver that he may face charges for his friends’ deaths. I have no idea whether or not this could actually happen, but I had a really hard time going there in the story. Why wasn’t anyone blaming the kid who responded to a text message while driving? No one ever points a finger at him or talks about how he should have passed the phone to a friend to respond or something. Everyone focuses on Carver’s guilt for sending the text message to begin with.
On the other side, I loved how each of his friends had a really different artistic talent, and that they weren’t all conventional talents. One boy is a comic artist. Another is a YouTube sensation who uses videos to challenge social ideas in a humorous way.
Goodbye Days is a thoughtful, emotional story. If you liked Away We Go by Emil Ostrovski or Me Since You by Laura Weiss, you should add Goodbye Days to your list.
Carver’s best friend Mars is from an affluent black family. His father, a local judge, holds Mars to very high standards, and at one point talks about how difficult it is in our country for young black men. One mistake, he explains, can ruin a man’s life. Carver’s best friend Blake is gay, but hasn’t told anyone else before his death.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used liberally. Also some crude language. Blake’s videos often feature some flatulence, and there’s quite a bit of chat about them.
Carver begins to have feelings for a girl and experiences some arousal. It’s brief, and pretty discreet.
One of Carver’s friend’s parents are atheists, and after their son’s death, Carver tells them that Eli wondered about the existence of God. There’s some discussion about whether that would make him a theist or agnostic. His parents seem uncomfortable with those ideas.
Blake’s mother, whom he does not live with, is a drug addict. Carver learns some snippets about what his life was like when he did live with her. Carver’s sister mentions that and her friends drank vodka in her bedroom.