Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner – Review by Kevin English

I first learned about Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days from a contact at Random House. She kept reminding me over and over again that if I liked The Serpent King then I would absolutely love Goodbye Days. And she was right. So very right.

Think about the last time you sent a text message. For me, it was minutes ago, right before I sat down to write this post. Although I sent it to my wife and knew that she would be on her way home from work soon, I still sent it. In the far depths of my mind, I knew that she very well could be driving. And as much as I ask her to silence her phone whenever she is around me (I’m convinced that alert sounds increase blood pressure), I know that she rarely does. She will hear my alert while driving, and she very well may check it.

My life aside, Carver Briggs, Zentner’s main character, does this too. Except he does it with his friends Blake, Mars, and Eli who are driving in a car at the very moment he sends it. It was a simple text of “Where are you guys? Text me back” from Carver to his friend, Mars, who happened to be driving that day that set this story in motion.

When Carver finds out that his friends have died, he only blames himself. But is Carver really responsible? Is it his fault that his friends died? And if his self-developed guilt wasn’t enough, he now has to face some of his classmates and friends’ relatives that also think he that is ultimately responsible for the tragic accident.

Luckily, Carver has a few close friends that stick by his side during this difficult time, including Blake’s grandmother. She asks him to spend a  “goodbye day” with her. This means that they will participate in a day-long ritual and live out the deceased’s favorite activities, visit their favorite places, and also share sides of the person that they soon realize each other never knew.

It’s this idea that becomes the title of Zentner’s story. On the surface, this book is about text messaging and consequences. And I guess you could read it for that, but it’s really about so much more. It’s about how humans cope with loss and endure despite unimaginable guilt. It’s about families and friendships, and how we can feel emotionally torn apart and toward other humans. It’s about complex relationships and the trust that exists between friends and family to really and truly know another person. Ultimately, Zentner reminds us that it’s through our collective memory, the composite that we create with so many other humans, that the mosaic of a person is created and understood fully.

Goodbye Days officially released on March 7, 2017.

Kevin English is a high school teacher in southeast Michigan and was recently the Touchstone Award recipient for the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmenglish.