Book review: How Many Letters in Goodbye?, by Yvonne Cassidy

Cassidy How Many LettersCassidy, Yvonne. How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? Flux. March 2016. Paperback. 432 pages. $11.99. ISBN: 9780738747453.

Rhea, a gay 17-year-old-turning-18, is at a crossroads. She’s an Irish expatriate orphan, missing an arm from a horrifying accident, and, to make things more difficult, she’s run away from her Aunt Ruth’s home in Florida to New York City, where she’s searching for more information about her mother and the mysterious details surrounding her life. She also comes to grips with the consequences of her relationship with her aunt’s stepdaughter.

The narrative is formatted in letters to Rhea’s mother, and most of the content’s style is not fluid; in fact, the reader might have a hard time keeping up with Rhea’s emotions and flashbacks throughout, as she describes what happens and then reverts to an important memory. Past recollections and anecdotes are personal, poignant and pertinent to the story, but it can be hard to comprehend exactly when certain events happened or in what order with Rhea’s scattered stream of consciousness. The roller coaster of Rhea’s life may appeal to adolescent readers, since it stays true to the teen experience: who hasn’t experienced the turbulence of being eighteen? By the end of the story, several family secrets are exposed, a new love interest has blossomed, and Rhea accepts not only what happened to her mother but also her own life thus far.

This is no easy read due to the page length and its overly serious nature. Yet, those who are patient will be rewarded with a mostly positive story portraying personal challenges, hope, and emotional healing. While the author’s descriptions are handled skillfully and with aplomb, librarians and teachers should be aware that suicide, depression, homelessness, child abuse, and molestation are prominent subjects within the book. Recommended for high school readers and above, and for libraries who want to feature more diverse/LGBTQ titles.

Judi Tichacek
Reference Librarian, Elmhurst College

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