I really love books about those times when people – young people especially – are about to step into a new phase in their life, where they are just on the cusp of something new and the story centres around all be bittersweetness of beginnings and endings and change. This is one of the things I really love about both YA and children’s novels, and with a title like The Goodbye Year I had a feeling that Emily Gale‘s latest book was going to hit right on all of those feels!
What is Emily Gale’s The Goodbye Year about?
It’s the start of 2020 and Harper is filled with anticipation about being in the final year of Riverlark Primary. She wants a leadership role, the comfort of her friendship group, and to fly under the radar of Riverlark’s mean-boy.
But one by one things go wrong. When Harper’s best friends are made school captains they are consumed by their roles, while her own role — library captain — is considered second-rate. Then something major throws life off course: her parents take overseas jobs as nurses in a war zone. Harper moves in with Lolly, a grandmother she barely knows — and her five pets, vast collection of old trinkets and very different expectations.
Just as Harper is getting used to Lolly, the pandemic arrives, and her goodbye year is nothing like she’d hoped it would be. Strange things are happening: she wakes in the night in odd places, fixates on an old army badge that seems to have a mind of its own, and on a visit to the school library during lockdown she’s convinced she’s seen a ghost.
Who is haunting her?
Can she get through the anxiety of the pandemic without her mum and dad? And will Harper find a way to be happy with her goodbye year?
My review of The Goodbye Year by Emily Gale
This was just the most heart-warming, gentle, relatable hug of a book I’ve read in a while. To be honest, when I realised it was set during 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic I wasn’t sure whether it was too soon, but Gale has done this in such a beautiful, sensitive, and authentic way that it felt exactly right and I read it almost all in a single sitting (I got a few chapters in on the beach, and finsihed on our bus trip home).
The Goodbye Year is written for kids but I think there is so much in here for everyone. The main focus of the story is on the ‘normal’ challenges of growing up – figuring out friendships, puberty, and the transition from primary to secondary school – Harper’s change is magnified by the fact her parents are away and she’s living with her grandmother, but then again by unique but also universal event of the pandemic hitting. I think children and adults alike will be able to relate to bits of all of these situations.
‘Seeing’ the situation with the pandemic unfold through the eyes of 12 year old Harper really made me reflect on what it has been like for young people, that in some ways their experience through this has been very different to adults’, but that really at the heart we have so much in common – missing people we are separated from, grieving for experiences missed, mixed feelings about lockdowns, and not always knowing how worried to be about what we’re hearing in the media. There were some parts that I really found very moving (you know I’m a book-cryer), especially towards the end of the book about relationships and connections and missing people, but I felt like Gale managed to nail the balance of hope throughout. While the book largely tells a contemporary story, I felt like the supernatural element really complemented the modern day so well, the way that part of the story reflected and intertwined with Harper’s was lovely.
I think this would be a perfect read for kids 8ish plus who love contemporary stories, and I also think it would be a lovely one to read with the young people in your life – either as a read aloud together or reading separately and discussing after.
Disclaimer: I am a judge for the 2022 Aurealis Awards. This review is my personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinators, or the Aurealis Awards management team.
The Goodbye Year by Emily Gale
Out now from Text Publishing
Source: I received a free ecopy for Aurealis Award judging, but also bought myself this paperback copy
Category: Aussie children’s (8-12yrs) contemporary with supernatural elements #LoveOzMG
Format: Paperback, 304 pages