How Many Letters are in Goodbye – Yvonne Cassidy
Dudes. Seriously, this was an emotional one, not in the sense that it made me sad, but in the sense that it had A LOT going on. Though it wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever come across, the sheer amount of issues raised and the way they’re told really blew me away. It literally doesn’t shy away from a single thing!
It’s been almost eleven years since Rhea Farrell last wrote to her mother.
It was a Friday night ritual – until Rhea’s father decided it was stupid to write letters to a dead person. That was the summer before the accident. The summer before Rhea began to keep her first secret.
Now about to turn eighteen, Rhea finds herself alone on the streets of New York with nobody to talk to about the future, or the past. So, just like she used to do as a little girl, she begins a letter with the words ‘Dear Mum’ and tells her mother the things she can’t tell anyone else.
In the city where Allison Farrell was born, her daughter begins to delve into her past. And as she uncovers more about who her mother truly was, Rhea starts to figure out exactly who she herself wants to be. And that sometimes it takes longer than you think to say goodbye…
So, here’s a little story for you, I saw this on Netgalley and thought, wow, interesting title and its about a girl in New York, I like the sound of this. So, I requested it and then forgot to actually turn the wifi on on my kindle so I could receive it. IT HAS TAKEN ME MONTHS TO GET THIS DOWNLOADED AND READ. I amaze even myself with my stupidity sometimes.
Let’s get on with telling you a bit about this book then shall we?
First off, this is kind of an emotional book that tackles a lot of big subjects, we not only have the death of two parents, a teenager being adopted and having to emigrate, LGBT issues, alcoholism, sexual assault, teenage runaways, being homeless and a whole host of other things, but our main protagonist is an amputee. I feel like I should get those things in there near the beginning in case any of it is triggering. Anyway, Rhea is a character that is severely lacking in YA and one I would like to see a lot more of. Apart from the now house hold name that is Augustus Waters, I’ve yet to come across a YA book about an amputee, let alone one that identifies as something other than heterosexual. When the story began, I found Rhea to be a really complex and interesting character, but she did get grating very quickly. I felt she was a little self absorbed, at the start this was kind of interesting, like, if I’d lost both parents and an arm and was living rough in New York after running away from an adoptive family that moved me from Ireland to Florida, I think I’d be a little self absorbed too, I would probably be much more interested in where my next meal was coming from and how to keep myself safe and warm than anything else. But as the story progresses and her situation changes, her attitude was irritating af and at times she became a bit problematic.
The book itself is brave, Yvonne Cassidy tackles all of the above issues and more in a sensitive way, the book has depth and complexity which isn’t usually seen in YA fiction, but because there is so much to pack in and so much going on, this book is LONG. Like super long. I had the kindle version, so I was fine, but I dread to think how heavy the physical book is. Although the story needed to be long in order to properly deal with everything, it felt long, sometimes too long. But, then again, I think if we had skimmed over some of the important topics tackled in this book, I’d have felt hard done by. I’ve seen a couple of other people on my wordpress reader mention they think if the book had been say 100 pages shorter, it would have been the perfect length. I don’t know, I think part of its depth is the fact that it has all these pages to weave the story with, but on the other hand, perhaps a more comprehensive story would have felt like less of a chore at times. Either way, I think should I pick this up again, it would be at a point in my life when I can read at a more leisurely pace, when something is super long and you’ve got other stuff to be getting on with, it can start to feel more like homework than something you do as a hobby. So, word of warning – maybe leave this until you’re going on holiday or you have a couple of weeks free! I guess sometimes when a book is as poignant and hard hitting as this one, you feel like you really need to dedicate sometime to it for it to make a proper impact.
How Many Letters are in Goodbye is told in the form of several letters written in a notebook by Rhea to her mother who died some years before the story begins. Rhea is in New York to try and piece together her mother’s life as it is where she grew up and a place that Rhea had never been prior to running away from home. As the letters progress, you learn how it is exactly that Rhea has come to be in this situation and why and also learn about her mother along with her. Some of Rhea’s anecdotes and hints at past events are heartbreaking, others are bittersweet and some of them made me cringe from second hand embarrassment. As a general rule, I love books written in letter form because there is so much you can speculate on. What we get is Rhea’s account of everything and how she interprets all the situations, there is a whole world surrounding her for you to interpret yourself. I don’t know, I love unreliable narrators. Plus there is something quite nostalgic about writing letters and the fact that she is writing to a mother she barely remembers at such a difficult time for her just adds depth to the story. I don’t think it would have worked half as well if it were a straight up narration.
I’d say my only real disappointment is the fact that New York, a wonderful, dangerous, vibrant, exciting place is completely sidelined. I am a city girl. I love cities. I love books set in cities, especially ones like New York and London, cities with culture where it is easy to lose yourself and find yourself all at the same time. Mostly I love city settings because the place almost becomes a character in its own right and in the context of this story, where Rhea spends most of her life living in a quiet Irish town never knowing the city her mother comes from and is then moved to Florida (having been to both Ireland and Florida, I can confirm that the two are COMPLETELY different) I would have thought that she would have felt the vastness and the brightness of somewhere like NYC a little more. Having said that, this book did not need to be any longer than it already was, so I’ll leave that as a Leah issue rather than a problem with the story.
All that is really left for me to say is that this is a very unique, hard hitting and brave book that deals with a lot of difficult issues in a realistic way. If you enjoyed Love Letters to the Dead, this was similar in style and if you enjoy raw story telling, then you should check this out!