Friday, June 15, 2012

Standiford, Natalie: How to Say Goodbye in Robot

October 9, 2009
Scholastic Press
YA Realistic/Contemporary, 276 pages
Acquired and read: From my local library; read within two days

From bestselling author Natalie Standiford, an amazing, touching story of two friends navigating the dark waters of their senior year.

New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn't made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It's not romance, exactly - but it's definitely love. Still, Bea can't quite dispel Jonah's gloom and doom - and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish?
Now, you probably know by now that YA contemp is totally not my thing. It's just too...real. I also don't believe that a boy and a girl can be friends without one or both of them wanting more, but that's more of a personal moral/family background than mere taste. But I was reading Atlantic Wire's list of summer reads based off YA authors' recommendations, and of course, being the Maggie Stiefvater fangirl I am, I instantly zoned in on what she had listed. In particular, I was caught by the pretty pink cover of How to Say Goodbye in Robot (seriously, this is the main reason why Scholastic is tied for top of my dream publisher list - gorgeous cover work), and Maggie enthusiastically endorses it as one of those books that can be totally seen in your mind as a movie.

Just another piece of evidence to prove that Maggie is awesome.

You should know that already.

So, as our heroine, we have Bea. She's just moved to a new town with her 'rents (both of whom are strange and broken in their own right, in my honest opinion). The thing that caught my attention about Bea straight away was the way she reacts to her mother calling her heartless and a robot. I don't know about you, but I think most teenagers go through this constant second-guessing of themselves - if they're feeling the right way, reacting the right way, thinking the right things as everyone else. Bea's really considering herself as a robot girl really touched a chord somehow, somewhere.

Of course, a true-to-life teenage girl like Bea can't just wind up with a cliche friend who crushes on Zac Efron and paints her toenails Sunset Passion. So, we are introduced to Ghost Boy - a.k.a. Jonah, who is pretty much ignored by the rest of the student body, but has some hidden skeletons in his family closet and a mutual passion that pulls Bea into his small, isolated world.

A radio station.

And not just any radio station. A quirky, local station, run by a man that calls himself Herb. A station where it isn't unusual for callers to ring in for an evening ride on "the magic carpet", or read poems they wrote themselves, or obsess over Elvis Presley. It's a little family of its own, united by being outsiders, for embracing their quirks whether others would rather hide it away and be part of the norm.

Yes. You really want to read this now, don't you?

Even in a novel, though, friendship doesn't run smoothly. The world doesn't stop turning for happy little moments of mutual radio-station listens or ditching prom or art contests. The ways that Bea and Jonah get pulled in opposite directions are depicted so accurately, it can't help but make your heart ache. In particular, Jonah's struggle with his father over his brain-dead twin, Matthew, really made me wish that it would all work out, because it's fiction and it's just got to have a happy ending...right?

I won't tell you whether it does or doesn't, but I will tell you that it is a bit sad. Definite hanky warning for this one.

The one thing I must return to in this novel, again and again, is how the author keeps it real. Of course, I did wish she'd avoided the cliche underage drinking party, where the protagonist wanders about bemoaning his/her existence and wondering why he/she even came and seeing the guy/girl he/she is/was interested in macking on another person. But besides that little snag, the rest of it pretty much is authentic. Bea and Jonah could be that quiet pair in the cafeteria you don't say hi to, or idling away their time on the lawn of some closed appliance store, speaking to themselves in voices that don't carry to your curious ears.

It's the beauty of being a YA writer when you can actually see these things come to life, on a sheet of white paper. Maggie is right. How to Say Goodbye in Robot would make a wonderful movie.

Just, again, I feel the need to warn you: it's not all rainbows and butterflies. I felt the need to smack one or both of Bea's parents at different intervals while I read. Jonah's dad isn't much better, and the high school kids...well, I think after reading YA for a while, you know how some of them can behave. And don't expect all the i's to be dotted and t's crossed and everyone to drift away on a breeze of soft, scented air and bright smiles as the credits roll across the screen.

This is not a Disney Channel Original movie sort of wonderful.

I think you have to read it for yourself to see what I mean. I can't think of how else to explain it.

I still wish she'd made Jonah a girl, though. 

Warnings (or, stuff that makes me cringe into my popcorn bucket at the movies): Language. Of course. And then there's a character death, a parent indulges in infidelity, some flaunting of authority and lying and changing names, and, of course, underage debauchery.


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