How To Say Goodbye in Robot is a quirky young adult novel about a friendship between two loners. I requested it from the publisher on the basis of the title (how could I not?). Then Melissa from Kidliterate made me want to read it by a) comparing it to a John Hughes movie and b) pointing out that despite the pink cover, it's "not really a romance". How To Say Goodbye in Robot is about Bea, newly arrived senior at a very small Baltimore school, and her all-consuming friendship with class outcast Jonah (aka "Ghost Boy").
Bea is a self-declared "Robot Girl", keeping her emotions firmly in check. Her stance is in direct proportion to her mother's over-wrought and unconventional behavior, and her parents' marital problems. She meets Jonah because their last names place them next to one another in assembly. He doesn't even speak to her at first, and he's not at all attractive. But she finds his antisocial behavior oddly refreshing, particularly compared with the catty girls and self-centered boys that she otherwise encounters at the school. When the two discover a shared interest in listening to late-night talk shows (and Jonah brings the local version to Bea's attention), they gradually become friends.
Jonah and Bea's relationship is not an ordinary friendship, and it's certainly not a romance. Bea's fascination with Jonah (who has a dark secret) keeps her from becoming friends with the other kids in school - keeps her from even noticing a perfectly nice boy who likes her. Jonah pulls her in, and pushes her away, consumed by his own demons. While Bea is not an unreliable narrator, per se, their relationship, because of Jonah's inherent instability, is suspect.
Jonah is not a likeable character, though he is intriguing. Bea has an engaging voice, laced through with self-deprecating black humor. I think that it's refreshing to read a book in which the main characters aren't necessarily attractive, and are decidedly unpopular. The radio program, populated by a host of oddball regulars, is an interesting device, too. There are dialog-heavy call-in sections that may appeal to reluctant readers (though I personally found some of the discussions a bit too surreal for my taste).
As Melissa noted, it's a bit of a shame that book has a pink cover (even though it's a beautiful cover), because it's not really a pink book. It's kind of a dark, sarcastic book, though with flashes of brilliance. I would pair it more with The Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl than with The Boyfriend List. I do agree that it would make a good John Hughes-ish movie, with the right casting. Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for Natalie Standiford's writing:
"The sobs returned then, the kind that shake your whole body. She melted onto the kitchen floor in a puddle of tears and lilac cologne." (Chapter 1) ("She" is Bea's mother)
"Experience told me that not that many guys were into flat-chested sticks with big round lollipop heads and stringy hair, unless by some miracle that was the regional definition of cute. If so, I hadn't come across that particular region. Mom kept telling me I had to grow into my face, but I knew a euphemism when I heard one." (Chapter 2)
"At eight, I fixed myself a plate of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach and went into the living room to watch It's a Wonderful Life. I could watch that movie a million times. I could watch it every day for the rest of my life and never get sick of it.
People think It's a Wonderful Life is a sappy movie, but they're wrong. It's sad. George Bailey is no saint. He's angry. He hates his family. He wants to travel the world and have adventures, but his family keeps stopping him." (Chapter 14)
"I hate February. It's the bleakest month of the year, and that February was even bleaker than usual. It slowed half a foot, then freezing-rained for a week until the whole world seemed carved out of metal-gray slush." (Chapter 16)
That last quote is exactly how I felt about winter (in Boston) when I was in high-school. We maybe had less rain and more snow, but my feeling of bleakness was the same.
How To Say Goodbye in Robot is funny, atmospheric, and disturbing. Because it's about friendship rather than romance, and because the characters are so unconventional, I don't think that it's going to appeal to everyone. However, I think that for a particular audience, this book will resonate strongly. Recommended for high school libraries, and for anyone looking for something a little different.
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book
Other Blog Reviews: Reading Rants!, Kidliterate
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.