Hello Wonderful Day! The time has finally arrived when the new book from Sara Barnard has hit the shops and is ready to be read, reread and discussed by friends over-excitedly recalling favourite characters and moments. I have chatted about Sara and her wonderful novels quite a few times here on Dog Eared Reads. Her debut, ‘Beautiful Broken Things’, immediately had me hooked and went straight on to my favourites shelf in the book shop I work in. There was no ‘second album syndrome’ for her when she followed up with the gorgeous ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’. Now with this third outing there can be no doubt that we have a YA author who will always have a presence on our bookshop shelves, an example of the best the genre has to offer.
We are lucky today to have Sara pop in for a chat with us AND an opportunity for you to get your mitts on a copy of her new title ‘Goodbye, Perfect’. Read on to find out more!
I follow Sara on twitter and the second I saw that the proofs of her new book were rolling off the printer I was in touch to nab myself a copy. The months in between reading it and the release date today have been an agony, telling all eager bookworms they must get a copy when it comes out but the date feeling so far away!
A close female friendship is at the core of this novel. We meet our protagonist Eden, a young woman who has not always had the easiest path to walk down in life, but has a reassuring hand to hold in her best friend Bonnie. Where Eden struggles Bonnie calmly glides, school is a walk in the park for her with constant A stars and popularity with students and teachers both. When this balance begins to shift Eden is left wondering what role she is meant to play now.
When I was wild, you were steady…
Now you are wild – what am I?
With GCSE’s a matter of days away, exams that had always been considered by Bonnie as such a pivotal moment in her life, Eden is rocked by the admission from her friend that she has been secretly dating somebody. A hidden boyfriend is something Eden could get her head around, but when Bonnie confesses their plans to run away to be together, life becomes a lot more complicated as her once steady best friend begs her to keep schtum. Bonnie had always reliably told Eden everything, now she questions if she knows her friend at all, how could she have kept this relationship from her and now not even provide details of where the pair are running to. Reminding herself that Bonnie loves her and has never let her down before, she keeps her trust in her and agrees to not betray her confidence, I mean, what is a best friend if not somebody to keep your secrets?
With exam worries and now the where about of Bonnie weighing on her mind, Eden is presented with the full weight of the situation when one morning, along with Bonnies mum, the police turn up on her door to question her. It isn’t just Bonnie running away that has caused those around her to be so frightened, it’s who she has run away with.
As the questioning and pressure on Eden to reveal all she knows becomes more intense, she has Bonnie in the other ear telling her to be what a best friend should be and not give her away. Which voices will shout the loudest and get Eden to listen?
After finishing the book in record time (I honestly couldn’t put it down) I spoke to Sara about ‘Goodbye, Perfect’, here is what she had to say:
Hello Sara and welcome to Dog Eared Reads! I’m a huge fan of your novels and found myself counting down the days to settle down and read your new book ‘Goodbye, Perfect’. You’ve really established a chunk of space on our bookshelves now with brilliant fiction, does it get easier with each book or are you still nervous when hitting that print button?!
I wish it got easier! But unfortunately, no – every book throws up a new, often unexpected, challenge.
Could you tell us a little about Goodbye, Perfect and what sparked the idea for the story in your head?
It’s a story that focuses on the people left behind after a scandalous event. I found myself thinking a lot about all the people you don’t hear about when there’s a big story in the news – the other family members, people in the workplace etc. So when a girl called Bonnie runs away with her teacher, which is what happens in Goodbye, Perfect, I wanted to explore how that decision affected all the people who don’t usually get a voice: her best friend, her schoolmates, her teachers and her family. Bonnie is the quintessential “good girl” and the decision is completely out of character – that’s always something that’s fascinated me, too: the labels we put on girls and how they push against them or reject them. I had a “good girl” friend in school who went through a bit of a rebellious phase at school, and I’ve thought about that a lot as an adult. Why she felt the need to do it and what she gained from it. She never did anything quite so dramatic, though!
In ‘Goodbye, Perfect’, and in your previous books, you have characters who are initially presented as being a particular person to their friends/family, such as the ‘solid, steady, straight A’ Bonnie, cool sisters who look like they have no problems, ‘wild childs’ who look like they could shrug off anything (Suzanne in Beautiful, Broken Things), and then gradually we learn the complexities behind each person. Is this something you consciously want to stress to your readers and if so why?
Yes! It’s really with this book that I noticed how much of a theme that is in my books – the masks we wear and how wrong we can be about people, even those who are really close to us. We do a lot of projecting and assuming, and there’s also the thing of not being prepared when people close to us change. A friend you make at ten is going to be very different at seventeen, but we’re often resistant to it, especially if they change in ways we don’t like. Generally we could all do with assuming a little less and looking a little closer.
‘Goodbye, Perfect’ has a male/female romantic relationship that is filled with respect and care. I realised when I was reading this that the books I grew up with never showed that, relationships always equaled drama. Did you have a similar experience with books when you were younger?
Yes, but I think a lot of that is to do with how we view stories, especially YA, which is that the romance is the centre. And as stories rely on conflict, and therefore drama, it makes sense that they would show only ‘dramatic’ relationships. I like telling stories that take away that element and find the centre of the story somewhere else. With G,P I wanted to have an established relationship that isn’t under threat as part of the plot. I think there’s room, even in YA, to show what a healthy, loving relationship looks like in the middle, rather than always focusing on the beginning or the end.
I love that every point of view is accessed in some way during the novel, so we hear from Eden and how she is feeling, but we also have her mother explaining the other side of the coin/how a parent would feel during that time. To me is seems they were given equal weight, it wasn’t just ‘Bonnies mum is a grown up and therefore is always right’, Edens mam stands up for her daughter and makes sure her views are being respected also. It felt like it was important young women’s experiences are listened to and respected, even if they are still learning about new situations. Do you think young women are being listened to now and do you think fiction can help them find confidence in their voice?
I think young women are very rarely listened to, unfortunately. That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about YA and why I think it’s so vital. YA provides a safe space for girls where they are centred and valued, where their stories are told. I hope that alone gives them more confidence in the power of their voices and the importance of their stories as they grow into adulthood.
All three of your books have mental health issues intertwined through them, often with more minor characters briefly being described as having a certain mental health problem. I think one of the reasons I adore all three books is that no character ever IS there mental health problem, it is a part of them along with many other strands that make them who they are. Now we have better understanding of just how many of us suffer daily from mental heath problems, how important do you think the representation is?
I think it’s massively important, and not just as the main theme or plot of a book but as part of daily life as well. For many people, their experience of mental illness will be through someone they care about, not just them experiencing it themselves. Mental health is as much a part of the background of life as well as the forefront, and I think representing that is important, too. It’s not always high drama; in fact, for many people, it’s their ordinary.
And finally, can we get excited that a future book is now being worked on (no pressure!) or are you enjoying a well earned break?!
I am indeed working on the next book, but it is not something I can talk about yet… I will say that it involves some old friends. But that’s all I can say 😉
Thank you for popping in Sara, now excuse me as I go giddily dancing about my flat in reaction to that little hint at the end!
I always love being able to talk about Sara’s books with readers, especially those who actually are the ‘young adults’ of YA, as I know they are in great hands. Her books always have plenty of plot and are an exciting read, great for keen readers but also imperative for those I meet who maybe don’t always read so much. The main reason I’m so passionate about them however is her characterisation, the people we meet between the pages are so fully rounded, with weaknesses and strengths, ranges of backgrounds, nothing is black and white just as it isn’t in life. To see a whole variety of experiences reflected is extremely comforting and makes me think more about what others are going through, two things which are equally as important now at 33 as they were when I was 13.
When we talk about our great YA writers Sara Barnard now firmly holds her own on that list, now it’s just time for me to start the countdown for the next book, no pressure Sara!
Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard £7.99 (Macmillan)
So – now is the time for you to be in with a chance to win a copy of ‘Goodbye, Perfect’! All you have to do is leave a comment below and share this post on any of your social media sites. The closing date is February 15th at 12pm and the winner will be notified by 6pm that evening. Good luck everybody, and until next time…