61 pages 2 hours read

Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Goodbye Stranger (2015), author Rebecca Stead’s fourth novel, is set in Stead’s home state of New York. The realistic middle-grade fiction novel examines the complications of adolescent friendships through exposing the pitfalls of impulsive decision-making and social media usage. Stead’s second novel, When You Reach Me, won the coveted Newbery Medal in 2010, and she won the Guardian Prize in 2013 for Liar & Spy. Stead’s novels have sold over a million copies and attract young readers who enjoy a realistic storyline written with lyrical, engaging prose. Goodbye Stranger holds multiple honors including a 2015 nomination for Goodreads Best Middle-Grade novel, the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Honor Award, the 2015 NPR list of Great Reads, School Library Journal Best Books of 2015, and Booklist Editor’s Choice 2015. This guide uses the 2015 Penguin Random House eBook edition.

Plot Summary

Bridget “Bridge” Barsamian has never been the same since a near-fatal roller-skating accident caused her to miss an entire year of school, left her with paralyzed sensations in her legs and gave her alarming night terrors. Her nurses’ words about her surviving for a reason haunt Bridge’s mind, and she often wonders what that reason is.

Bridge lives with her parents and brother, Jamie, in their Manhattan apartment. Bridge’s father owns a popular coffee shop called the Bean Bar, and her mother is an accomplished cellist who often travels to perform for celebrity weddings. As Bridge enters seventh grade, life is changing and so are her friends, bringing anxiety and uncertainty with a new school year. Bridge and her two best friends, Tabitha (“Tab”) and Emily (“Em”), swore an oath in elementary school to never fight, but as Em’s body transforms and Tab finds a new identity with her interest in social justice, Bridge is left feeling on the outside of the trio.

Bridge unexplainably begins wearing cat ears and struggles with who she is versus who she thinks she should be. Searching for a place to connect, Bridge joins the school tech crew, a non-club that runs the lighting and sound for school productions.

Em’s maturing body brings her success on the soccer field, online attention from peers, and the attention of an older boy named Patrick. When Patrick and Em begin swapping text photos of innocuous parts of their bodies, Tab and Bridge discourage the behavior, but Em feels ready to pursue her romantic feelings.

While Em spends increasingly more time with her soccer friends, including an older girl named Julie Hopper, Tab uses her free time to work with the Human Rights Club led by her favorite teacher and feminist mentor Ms. Berman, or “the Berperson” as she prefers to be called. Tab soaks in all the Berperson’s wisdom and uses every opportunity to share it with her friends. Meanwhile, Bridge develops a new friendship with Sherm Russo, a fellow tech crew member, and must sort out her feelings of whether Sherm is her new best friend or future boyfriend.

Simultaneously, Jamie has entered a step challenge bet with his friend Alex to win back a beloved Rolling Stones t-shirt that Alex won off him in a previous bet. If Jamie loses the 10,000 steps a day challenge, he must sing to the coffee shop cashier, Adrienne, in his underwear. Jamie goes to great lengths each day to carefully track his steps, and his track team membership makes it even more difficult. Bridge and Jamie have a healthy sibling relationship, and Bridge helps Jamie manage his step count by bringing him food.

After Patrick sends Em a picture of his belly button, his doorknob, and one of him wearing nothing but underwear, Em employs Bridge’s help to snap a photo of herself wearing a black, lacy bra. Bridge implores her to reconsider sending the pic, but after Em and Patrick exchange kisses in the hallway, she decides to send it. Almost instantly, the photo goes public, causing an uproar.

While Em deals with her school crisis, Sherm is privately dealing with a family tragedy. He lives with his parents and grandparents, but his beloved Nonno Gio unexplainably left them and his wife of 50 years. Sherm struggles to make sense of the loss and writes letters to his grandfather to process his grief, but he never mails them. When Sherm receives the photo, he grapples with telling the principal Mr. Ramos so the photo circulation will stop. Em is most embarrassed not by everyone seeing her body, but by the way they judge her choices, deeming her a “slut” and “skank” while Patrick’s actions are ignored. Several students are suspended, and Em is removed from the school talent show. The administration cracks down on the dress code, and Em feels targeted.

When the photo of Patrick in his underwear appears on his social media page, everyone assumes Em posted it, but she was at soccer practice when it went live. The friends try to uncover who posted the photo, yet they secretly revel in seeing Patrick get a taste of the ire Em endured from their peers. After having dental surgery, Tab reveals she posted Patrick’s photo, and Em is furious; her actions only increased the bullying. The three friends fear they have broken their no-fight pact but decide to amend the agreement to allow for healthy conflict when necessary.

Valentine’s Day arrives along with the school’s annual Talentine Show. The tech crew has worked tirelessly to decorate the set and the school for the Apollo 11 theme, and Sherm and Bridge have special plans of their own. Dressed in Bridge’s tech crew shirt and signature cat ears, Em takes the stage after the last act and delivers her performance to an awed crowd. Bridge is overjoyed and realizes her purpose in life is to love and care for her friends. Sherm and Bridge share their affection for each other as best friends but decide to postpone pursuing their romantic feelings. Sherm’s grandfather returns home briefly to see him, and with Bridge’s encouragement, Sherm decides to send the letters. Two years in the future, Sherm and Bridge share their first kiss.

Interwoven into Bridge’s story is an account of an unnamed high school narrator who decides to skip school on Valentine’s Day to avoid a difficult situation at school. The narrator, Tab’s older sister, Celeste, spends the day roaming the park, remembering the carefree days of childhood with her best friends Vinny and Zoe. As they grew up, Vinny began to change, and when Celeste gained a new friend in Gina, Vinny’s friendship turned toxic.

In the present, Celeste returns home and hides in the closet as a neighbor answers the worried calls from her mother and comes to check the apartment. She escapes back out onto the lonely streets of New York and wanders into the Bean Bar where she meets Adrienne, the cashier. Despite worrying about Celeste’s safety, Adrienne is kind to her and gives her free food. Spending the day alone helps Celeste realize that just as Vinny changed, so did she, and she must deal with the consequences of her bad decisions. Celeste remembers when it all went wrong: Gina confided in Celeste that she was in love with her best friend, Marco. Attempting to repair her relationship with Vinny, Celeste told Gina’s secret, and Vinny plotted to embarrass Gina with the annual Valentine’s Day flower delivery. Presently, Celeste leaves the Bean Bar resolved to fix her mistakes. After attending the middle school talent show and assuring her parents that she is safe, Celeste buys a rose and goes to Gina’s apartment to apologize, and the friends reconcile.