Image: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
Grief is never simple, so writing about it shouldn’t be either.
Or at least that’s the case with YA author Jeff Zentner’s latest novel Goodbye Days.
The book follows Carver, a teen grieving the death of his three best friends after they all die in a tragic car accident. Now instead of spending his senior year with his closest friends, Carver is mourning the loss of lives that passed far too young.
"How do you measure the value of a life that never had a chance to get married, have kids, get a first job, graduate from college, all of these things?"
"So often we assign value on lives based on accomplishment and based on a compendium of things done in life," Zentner explains. "But how do you measure the value of a life that never had a chance to get married, have kids, get a first job, graduate from college, all of these things?"
It’s a heavy question and one at the core of the book. But the novel isn’t just about grieving friends — it’s also about the complicated feelings of regret and guilt that come with death.
When emergency responders were investigating the deadly car accident, they found evidence that Carver’s friend, who was driving the car, was in the middle of responding to a text that Carver sent. Because of this discovery, Carver soon finds himself not only working through his own sense of guilt, but also fighting for his innocence in a criminal investigation that holds him personally responsible for his friends’ death.
"I think there’s a difference between types of guilt," Zentner explains. "I believe that you can have caused a result without being morally culpable, without being guilty for a result. The term guilt comes weighted with a moral judgment. And I wanted to explore how actions can be weighted with moral judgment or can shed this moral judgment."
To make matters even more challenging, the families of the deceased begin asking Carver to host "goodbye days,” where he recounts stories and sometimes even stands in for his friends as their families share their final messages.
All of these themes — death, guilt, regret, family — all merge in Goodbye Days to craft a novel that is as complicated as it is devastating.
This week on the MashReads Podcast, we are joined by Jeff Zentner to read and discuss Goodbye Days.
Join us as we talk about novels about grief, tropes in YA, and Goodbye Days.
And as always we close the show with recommendations:
Jeff recommends The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro. The book is the second book in the Charlotte Holmes series. "Both books are the most utterly brilliant blend of commercial and literary writing." He also recommends History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (which we talked about here on the MashReads Podcast with Silvera himself). And finally, Jeff has also been reading books by Khaled Hosseini. "He is what I want to be. His books are so poignant and so resonant and so beautifully written."
Aliza recommends the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series after seeing the new off-broadway show The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. "They’re fun and they’re funny. Even though when you are reading them, it’s very clear they are written for 12-year-olds, there is some deep dark stuff barely under the surface."
Peter recommends HBO’s show Big Little Lies. "This is one of the rare things where I would almost have watched this than read the book because it is such a visual story, or at least how they tell it on HBO. It is so dramatically withholding in visual form."
MJ recommends South and West by Joan Didion. "[Joan Didion] is just such an astute observer of life."
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