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Updated: Aug 27, 2019

I've been on a long search for a YA book that gives me The Feels since All the Bright Places and I've been hard pressed to find one. It's not that there aren't great YA books that evoke strong emotions, it's just that they don't compare to the heart-wrenching feelings I had when I read ATBP. Feel free to recommend ones to me that will completely gut me, and I'll recommend one to you: Six Goodbyes We Never Said.

Naima Rodriguez doesn't need your help, your sympathies, or your friendship, thank you very much. She's perfectly fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine (six, always six) grieving her father, a Marine fallen in combat, alone in the only way she knows how–angrily, obsessively, heart-wrenchingly.

Andrew "Dew" Diaz-now-Brickman wouldn't mind having one friend (just one, that's all) to help him navigate the devastating loss of his parents and his new life with his new family. While he may use his handheld recorder and Dew's News to say the things that are on his mind, what he really needs is a friend to help him overcome his anxieties and maybe, just maybe, help him feel connected to someone who sees him, the real him.

It's hard to put into words what grief feels like, particularly for those who have never lost the one that they loved the most in the world, because grief is never just one feeling. It's anger and betrayal, hurt and devastation, it's guilt in the moments when you're happy while the one you love is dead but also loneliness because you feel as though you are, in that moment, alone. And eventually, it's surprise that the grief feels a little less heavy, that over time it's lessened and your back aches just a less from the weight of the grief that you've been carrying around.

Six Goodbyes doesn't just capture the complexity of grief and the associated feelings, it also captures the struggle of navigating the people you love while feeling those things. Naima is angry and sarcastic and more likely to arm-bar you than hug you, and that feeling is just and true for so many people, especially teens who are still figuring out who they are. What I love the most about Naima is that she is unapologetically (most of the time) herself and she doesn't discard the anger she feels ever though her hovering, slightly overbearing grandparents would like her to be a little kinder. Not to mention, she navigates the grief of losing her father, who promised to return, while also dealing with her OCD and General Anxiety Disorder, which are hard enough without the additive of all-encompassing grief. Naima is the angry teen in the hallway that you want to connect with but can't, because she doesn't know how to connect with you and isn't sure she wants to, and you don't know how either. She's not a character we see often enough in YA.

Dew Diaz-now-Brickman is on the other end of the grief spectrum, coping with the loss of both of his parents at once by remembering the good times and channeling that good fortune into his recovery. He's determined to be friends with Naima, a girl he's only heard of through her father and her grandparents, and when she returns to Ivy Springs he tries to befriend her despite her loud and firm rejections. Dew knows she's hurting because he sees himself in her, and while he wants to be her friend because it might help her to have someone who understands, it's also because he needs a friend too.

Six Goodbyes We Never Said hits a lot of hard topics in one place: grief and loss, mental illness, being an outcast, and so much more. You'll feel for these characters even if you don't want to, you'll be outraged for them and irritated on their behalf, and that's what makes this book great. It elicits strong feelings that linger even after it ends. Pick up after it's release on September 24th, 2019.


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