Goodbye from Nowhere by Sara Zarr

Review by Deborah Vail

Balzer+Bray, HarperCollins Publishers, 7 April 2020

376 pages, paper back, $23.99 CAN,  978-0-06243-468-5

Ages 14+, Grades 9-12

Young Adult, Contemporary Realism

Ten years ago, there would have been bedtime reading and kisses good night.

Where had it all gone? When a family falls apart, where does the old family go?

When Kyle Baker’s father tells him that his mother is having an affair, Kyle’s world begins to fall apart. He’s just committed to his girlfriend and confessed his love for her, but his understanding of commitment and loyalty are based on his parents’ love story. Now, he has no idea what staying true to another person even means.

Kyle Baker is handsome, athletic, popular, smart, comes from a close-knit and supportive extended family, and his parents are affluent enough to provide him with a vehicle and his own credit card for gas and other luxuries. He loves old musicals and has a best friend is his cousin, Emily. Yet, none of these advantages shelter him from the pain of watching his family fall apart, the helplessness he feels and the shame he experiences because of other people’s actions.

As he wrestles with his parents’ secret, Kyle grows to hate how passive his father is, but must keep this secret in “the vault” where father and son store other confidences. He can’t even stomach to be near his mother. He ghosts his girlfriend and stops hanging out with his friends. Kyle can’t focus on his baseball team or his final year in high school—what’s the point of anything when life is so unpredictable and unfair?  

Kyle’s anxiety heightens when he realizes another family besides his own could be destroyed by his mother’s affair, and wrestles with what his responsibility is in this situation. Should he confront his mother? Should he confront the other man?  

What takes root in this novel is the idea that no one is perfect. We’re all stumbling through life doing the best we can. Goodbye from Nowhere is more than a typical coming of age story because Kyle Baker comes to terms with his own preconceived notions about love, sex and commitment through deep reflection, acceptance and forgiveness. The author does a spectacular job of showing us how the human heart continues to love and forgive even when it’s broken and deeply disappointed.

This is a novel for anyone struggling to understand how to cope in a family where the behaviors of the people they love the most cause the deepest pain. Author Sara Zarr wrestles with questions about personal responsibility, where we draw the line, and how to stop feeling shamed by the actions of others.

Deborah Vail writes YA, adult fiction, creative non-fiction, book reviews and interviews with notable authors. Her short fiction has appeared in Grain Magazine, The Antigonish Review and The New Quarterly. Her review of Sonja Boon’s memoir, What the Oceans Remember is forthcoming in The Antigonish Review. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

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