How Do You Say Goodbye? (Sweet Dreams #16)
First published 1982
My history with this book
This was one of several Sweet Dreams books I read as a pre-teen. I’ve found copies of a few titles I remember from the series, and I’m going to make my way through them over the coming months.
I read a lot of what I think of as generic teen romances from approximately age 11 to 13. Most of these books were in series put out by various publishers. The Sweet Dreams series was the longest-running of the various teen romance series, with a whopping 230 volumes published between 1981 and 1995. I think I stopped reading these types of books around 1984 or 1985.
From what I can remember of these books, they were usually about an ordinary teen girl, with supposedly normal teen problems. The plots often centered around a girl who was torn between two equally attractive guys. These books were total wish fulfillment for your average 12-year-old girl, who probably wasn’t dealing with the tragic issue of having two hot guys wanting to date her.
How Do You Say Goodbye is a very typical 80s teen romance. Our heroine is 15-year-old Lisa, who describes herself as follows:
I guess I’m what you’d call ordinary. Even my name, Lisa Kentwood, is ordinary. Some people say that I’m pretty because I’ve got this long strawberry blond hair that falls straight to my shoulders, but frankly, I think my looks are just ok.
Sweet Dreams heroines are always pretty, but never the most beautiful girl in the class, which I suppose serves to make them more relatable. Lisa’s main interest in life is baking, and she has a small business baking and selling elaborate desserts. Lisa’s biggest problem is that she can’t say no to anyone. She’s overcommitted in her baking because she never turns down an order. She’s dating her childhood friend, the nice but kind of dull, Lawrence, and although she likes him, he doesn’t exactly set her heart afire.Then she meets manic pixie dream boy Alex, and suddenly she’s dating two guys, because she’s unable to tell Lawrence that she doesn’t want to go steady with him. Of course, this blows up in her face. But in the end, everything works out fine. Lisa wins a major baking competition, Lawrence forgives her and ends up dating her best friend, and Alex also forgives her and wants to keep dating her.
When I read the description on the back of the book, it sounded vaguely familiar, but once I started reading the book, it really came back to me and I found myself remembering bits and pieces of the story, so this book must have had at least some impact on me as a kid.
The story felt a little dated, but not as bad as I expected. The constant references to “going steady” seem dated even for the 1980s, and I remember thinking when I first read it that going steady felt very 1950s. I wasn’t particularly interested in Lisa’s baking when I was a kid, but that plot detail held up pretty well, since we now live in a time when bakers get reality TV shows and our nation’s cupcake obsession is only just now waning. The most dated aspects are the hilarious descriptions of outfits. For her first date with Alex, Lisa wears a ruffled Victoria blouse, velvet pants, and a glittery belt. In another scene, she dons a pair of yellow satin pajamas tucked into knee-high boots.
Re-reading it gave me a certain nostalgic pleasure, and although it’s not exactly a classic of children’s literature, it’s not a bad book. I get the appeal of these books–there’s always a happy ending, the heroine always get her man, and being ordinary is rewarded. They’re aspirational, but in a “this could actually happen to me” sort of way. The sort of problems the heroines face are pretty mild; these are definitely not “issue” books. Of course, Alex is the sort of magical unicorn perfect teenage boy that doesn’t exist in actual high schools. Were he written today, the heroine might wonder if he actually liked girls, but in the world of 80s teen novels, everyone is straight* (and mostly white).
Although the heroines of these books are always in high school, the reading level feels more appropriate for junior high. Maybe I just have different expectations from reading a lot of very good young adult books published in recent years, but the writing in this one feels rather unsophisticated.
Does it hold up?
Better than I expected.
Is there any objectionable content?
Can you read it aloud?
Not unless you really want to embarrass your kids.
Would I want my kid to read it?
If he really wanted to, but it’s not something I’d push on him.
It’s out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.
*M.E. Kerr’s I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me, which has an openly gay supporting character, is a notable exception.