Book Review: Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

“Holy fucking shitballs Bonnie”

Okay, I stole Sara’s quote to open this review, but honestly, there is no better description of this book than that. Seriously. I screamed swears at this book so many times I lost count. It hit all my feeling buttons, and some I didn’t even know I had. I was basically Father Jack in the corner minus the drink cuddling a book (if you don’t get that reference, just move on, it wasn’t that funny anyway…). I refused to cook my family’s tea whilst I read the last few pages. It was that gripping.

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Goodbye, Perfect is the story of Eden and Bonnie, best friends since forever. Bonnie is ‘the sensible one’: she’s the kind of the girl who decides to sample alcohol for the first time in the safety of Eden’s room treating it like a science experiment. She’s the girl at school who is “over-prepared to the point of ridicule”, and Eden is just …not. Eden is adopted, she doesn’t feel completely secure in her family, she still remembers a lot about her mum, and she is very cautious about who she opens up to. She can be feisty, sarcastic and scathing. She is witty, often at the wrong moments, and at times she had me howling with laughter. She seems outwardly confident but second-guesses herself a lot. She is used to putting up a front with everyone. Except Bonnie.

First and foremost, Goodbye, Perfect is a story about teenage friendship. Sara is the Queen of writing authentic teenage friendships. She captures what it is to have a best friend in your teens beautifully: the ferocity, the all-consuming nature of them, the feeling that you will share all the things all of the time. In this novel, Sara shows us what it feels like to have that feeling tested. There is a lot of emphasis in this story on what it means to Eden to be a best friend. Eden would do anything for Bonnie, even lie to the police. She sees Bonnie’s running away with Mr Cohn as a betrayal of their trust, not because she went, or because she went with a teacher, but because she didn’t tell her. Despite this, she still believes she must keep Bonnie’s secret. I loved how mortally offended she got every time someone accused her of lying or knowing more than she did, even though she does. There are huge gaps to what Eden does know, and she justifies her actions this way and by telling herself that she’s keeping her best friend’s confidence.

“She asked me to keep quiet and to trust her, and so I have to do that. That’s what being a friend is”

“Even when they’re completely screwing up?”

“Especially when.”

Goodbye, Perfect, perfectly depicts the heart-breaking reality of discovering that perhaps you don’t know your best friend as well as you think you did, and this realisation breaks Eden in a new way. Of all the things in her life, her friendship with Bonnie was the one thing Eden could rely on. Eden is cautious in her relationships, she doesn’t open up easily, but she has given herself to Bonnie, and the realisation that their friendship might not have meant as much to Bonnie is difficult for Eden to take. I really did feel for Eden. Bonnie has suddenly become someone Eden doesn’t fully understand. She’s about to blow off her GCSEs, the exams she has spent her whole life panicking about, because she’s “in love”. This is not Eden’s Bonnie. Eden says, It doesn’t make any sense at all, and she is hurt when Bonnie suggests it’s as though they’ve both changed places because:

“it’s not like we’ve switched places at all – I’m just the same as I was last week. It’s more like my best friend has disappeared and been replaced by a total stranger.”

Eden doesn’t really know how to react to the news. She does what she thinks Bonnie would want, at one point deciding to “help” by providing a more favourable picture of Bonnie to be used in the media. She believes that she knows Bonnie better than anyone, and this is what Bonnie would want, but (and as a mum I can understand this), Bonnie’s mum does not find this helpful. Eden takes a lot of the blame for Bonnie’s decision. Bonnie’s mother lashes out and directs her anger at Eden. She is the one who is still here, and Bonnie’s mum finds it easier to blame her then she does to accept she doesn’t know her daughter. The adults around her all act very differently and this highlights the age difference: the way that adults think about the situation is a stark contrast to the way Eden and Bonnie see it. They might think they’re adults, but they’re not. There is a poignant conversation between Eden and Bob about this which was well-handled. Bob is the calm parent figure, and he (unlike the other adults) treats Eden like someone old enough to understand what is happening, but perhaps not able to grasp the nuances of it. Eden sees that her friend is in love and that she is happy; Bob has to point out that there are issues of power and authority at play because of Mr Cohn’s position.

Mr Cohn is just creepy. Let’s be real. There are so many red flags here, I could start a parade. For starters he’s her teacher, and I think the parent in me really couldn’t get my head around this. Mr Cohn is a “cool” teacher – everyone at school has had a crush on him. He’s THAT teacher. I loved that Eden was so surprised about this relationship: that she thought Mr Cohn wasn’t the type of teacher to do this (subtly busting the myth that there is a particular type), and that her response to Bonnie saying, you don’t know him was I’m not supposed to know him. He’s my teacher. I did find myself having some mixed feelings that I am not proud of, because obviously this situation is all the kinds of wrong. A teacher and pupil romance is not okay. But on the other hand, it seemed clear that Bonnie absolutely knew what she was doing when she ran away with Mr Cohn. She may not have understood all the implications, but she is a thinker, and her actions throughout suggest she absolutely knew that what she was doing was serious, and that it wasn’t good.

Eden’s own relationship with Connor is a constant reminder of how wrong Bonnie’s relationship with Mr Cohn is. Connor and Eden act like teens in a relationship, they don’t have to hide from everyone, they are stable, they’ve thought about their progress as a couple, they talk to each other, Connor encourages Eden and supports her, and I thought it was important that the book showed this, so we didn’t get swept up in the “love story” of Bonnie and Mr Cohn.

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Goodbye, Perfect is narrated in first-person by Eden. She gives the story a very authentic teen voice, and this viewpoint allows us to go through all of the emotions alongside Eden. We start off, like Eden, wondering what the actual fuck Bonnie is playing at, but by the end, we start to see what led to Bonnie’s actions. The story is told through texts, extracts from letters, factoids about the characters and, my personal favourite, Conversations That Took on a Different Meaning after Bonnie Disappeared gives perspective on Bonnie, which allow us to reflect on Bonnie’s thoughts and feelings leading up to her running away.

There is a lot more to this story than friendship. It’s also a story about family and acceptance. There is a fabulous subplot of Eden and her adoptive sister Valerie’s relationship. We see Eden push Valerie away constantly, and Valerie seems hurt by this. I did want to yell at Eden a bit (okay, a lot) at some of these moments. I could understand her feelings of not fitting in, being adopted can’t be easy, but at the same time, it seemed so obvious that Valerie just wanted to have a relationship with Eden. When the two are forced to spend time together on a long car journey (with a very awkward Connor in the backseat), they have the chance to confront this issue and really get to the bottom of how the other is feeling. Initially, like Eden, I found Valerie quite irritating, but as the story went on I grew to love her. It also gave us chance to see more of Eden’s feelings around her adoption: part of the reason she pushes Valerie away is because she cannot believe that Valerie wanted her for a sister. Foster care and adoption are woven seamlessly into the narrative. It never feels like we’re being given information, but it does shed a light on Eden’s perspective, which many will share, of life in foster care. I loved how Eden’s mother wasn’t portrayed as being abusive or terrible, just a mother who couldn’t give her daughters what they needed or deserved. This is something not often reflected in novels, so it made a refreshing change to read.

I have loved Sara’s work since the moment I picked up A Quiet Kind of Thunder and vowed to read everything else she has ever written, and I think Goodbye, Perfect might just be her best work yet.

Read this. You won’t find a more beautifully heart-breaking tale of friendship or sisterhood anywhere.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

Add yours

  1. I think your review has sold me on picking up this book. I was hesitant because I knew it had the ‘teacher/pupil relationship’ that I really hate but if the uneasiness and awkwardness related to that is explored then I could see myself picking it up. Also the sibling relationship between Eden and Valerie sounds like something I would love to read about, not to mention I was gong to broach the same relationship in something I was writing. Hmm..
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the best exploration of a pupil teacher relationship I’ve ever read. I think it’s really interesting that it’s not from the point of view of the teacher or pupil but from a friend. If you do read it, I’d really love to know what you think of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, that is an interesting perspective and it’s definitely one that makes me feel more comfortable about the way the plot device is used.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a terrible YA reader and I’ve not read any of Sara’s books but this review is fantastic so I think I might have to buy this one sooner rather than later.

    Liked by 1 person

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