March 08, 2016
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Seventeen-year-old Rhea Farrell carries the scars of a childhood accident in which she lost her arm. But she also carries scars that aren't so visible--the loss of a mother she hardly remembers, the impact of her father's drinking, and her confusion and pain around accepting her sexuality.
When Rhea runs away, she turns to the person she always wished she could confide in--her mother. And just like she used to do as a little girl, Rhea starts to write her letters--to tell her things she can't tell anyone else, to share her fears, to ask for help. Rhea's journey on the streets of New York brings her deeper into her mother's past where she uncovers buried family secrets. And as she finds out more about the woman her mother truly was, Rhea also discovers just what kind of woman she wants to be.
"It's a powerhouse of emotion. My heart is now stretched into new shapes."--Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Stonewall Award-winning author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
One of the things Rhea keeps with her is an old copy of the Raymond Carver book of short stories, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" At one point she admits she's read the stories, but doesn't like them because, ". . . Nothing happens, no beginning, no middle, no end. They're kind of like life, not like stories at all." (pg 10) While it didn't cause me to dislike the book, I had similar feelings about much of How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? It could feel like we were just going along observing (or being told about) Rhea's life.
As a whole though, How Many Letters Are in Goodbye does have more of the traditional beginning, middle, end structure than the short stories she read.
The author does a nice job giving readers a look at three different times in Rhea's life: as a little girl, before she ran away and now in New York. That it wasn't all neat and linear fit well with how the story was being told (through Rhea's letters to her deceased mother) and as things were relevant or the memory triggered by something.
This was a slow read for me and Rhea does say, 'fifty kinds of crazy' much too often (something like fifteen times in the second half of the book) but I liked this book. There are a lot of issues discussed, kept secret and which affect the characters but it wasn't too much. Especially once things are out in the open ad you see the connections and how one painful thing may have lead to (at least in part) another (and so on).
I liked the gradual growth of Rhea's character and how we didn't know all of her past and that she discovered things as well, nearly right up to the end.
(I do think the cover might be too 'pretty' for the story. Seeing a larger version, I do like it more than I did, but still don't think it really fits.)
review copy received, thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley