Here’s what I remember about my last night at home before I left for college: I was one of the last of my friends to go away. I watched Donnie Darko with my then-boyfriend. Afterwards he gave me a gift: a copy of my favorite movie so I could watch it when I was at school (I only had a VHS copy up until that point) and a ceramic turtle he had had forever to remind me of him (I still have the turtle actually). I went to bed and the next morning, my parents and I woke up at the crack of dawn to leave for my new adventure. It’s impossible to read Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between without remembering the very odd summer I had at home just before college. There wasn’t a ton of time between graduation and actually packing up for school, but in those three months I managed to work a lot at my part-time jobs at CVS and The Disney Store, get a new boyfriend, and fill up our family van with all the crap I needed for school. I went to the beach with my best friend, had swim parties with my high school pals, and attended (what felt like) a million graduation parties.
I was sad and I was nervous about leaving but I also felt ready. My parents and I needed some space and after going to school in the same town for my whole life, I was ready to go somewhere where no one knew me even if this meant leaving my new boyfriend behind. Unlike Claire and Aiden, we didn’t have two years under our belt and reading Jen Smith’s new novel made me realize we had never discussed even breaking up our relationship. There was so much drama tangled up in us getting together in the first place, and ending everything before it even really started was never an option. Long distance was just going to be a thing we did. So as much as Hello, Goodbye is the perfect read for teenagers in that shaky place right now — when you have no idea what decision is right or wrong and have to make one anyway — I felt just as affected as an adult, 10 years since my freshman year, who has already experienced an endgame to many of Claire’s concerns. I understood Claire’s back and forth about whether or not to stay with Aiden once they went away to different schools, and her legit fear of being so distracted with the past she wouldn’t embrace her present. How the summer she envisioned hanging out with her best friends until they were physically unable to any longer didn’t quite happen that way.
Confession: I was totally that girl Claire didn’t want to be. I’d like to think that if my then-boyfriend would have decided to let go of his old girlfriend maybe I would have been less of an anxious, insane freshman who was more wrapped up with the ex-girlfriend’s suspicious away messages and the glaring fact that this guy and I were not solid enough to deal with a presence such as hers. In the middle of all that, a guy I graduated with and worked with died the second month I was at school. I didn’t even realize until years later how withdrawn I was during that first year. Two of the girls in my suite are still close friends, and now we can certainly look back and laugh about that crazy first year but whoa, they were concerned. I was 100 miles away from home, stranded without a car with a boyfriend who barely had a cell phone, and a wild imagination. (You would have been too; this ex was terrifying.)
All Claire wanted to do was save herself some grief by ending things with Aiden. She didn’t want to wonder about what he was doing or who he was meeting. She didn’t want to stop herself from meeting and doing too. Strangely, I felt proud of her. Because an itty bitty part of me wonders what would have happened if I had explored ALL the options instead of going with the one I wanted the most. Would I have spent less time on the internet? Smiled and socialized more? Spent less time looking up schools to transfer to in the middle of the school year?
Maybe. That’s the thing. As much as we plan and hope, life has the tendency to have a mind of its own. So while I was impressed with Claire’s focus to reach a cut and dry solution to the future of her and Aiden’s relationship, I also wanted to shake her and just tell her to enjoy that last night because if that evening was any indication, there were plenty of surprises in store for her on this new adventure and sometimes you just have to let them happen.
Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith captures the extreme doubt and excitement associated with new adventures and new beginnings in an agonizingly realistic and bittersweet way. After two years together, can Claire and Aiden continue their relationship when so many factors are left unknown as they leave for college? Will their friendships with best friends Stella and Scotty survive distance? In a rare look at the night before their time at home and in high school ends for good, Smith delivers an emotional ride peppered with quirky twists and turns and questions of independence and dependability. Plus a lot of tears from this reader. It’ll make you reflect, wonder, and look around and realize: sometimes you just have to move with change and have a little faith.