How To Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford
2009, Scholastic Press
New to town, Bea is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn't made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It's not romance, exactly - but it's definitely love. Still, Bea can't quite dispel Jonah's gloom and doom - and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish? (courtesy of Goodreads)
This is one of the strangest books I've ever read. The characters are all damaged in some way. Pages are taken up by a "transcript" of a very weird radio show. The plot is less important than the characters themselves. Despite the oddness of the book or perhaps because of it, How to Say Goodbye in Robot was fascinating.
Bea moves to Baltimore from Ithaca when her professor father accepts a new job. She is a nice girl but very detached. I imagine she's rarely had or felt the need for a lot of friends. She is like her father in many ways. They both watch her mother descend further into mental illness from the background, seemingly without emotion or reaction. They're bothered by her depression and weird/embarrassing actions but they don't do anything about it. I thought that was very odd.
On the first day of school, Bea is polite to Jonah a.k.a. Ghost Boy, the school outcast. He brushes her off but then sends her a cryptic note to listen to a radio show that evening. The radio show is really cool - I wish I knew of a real one like it - a regular group of misfits call in and just talk, about Elvis, time travel, flying carpets, singing, everything. It's like a group of friends chatting every evening. Bea and Jonah bond over this show and become fast friends. I did think that the quickness of their friendship was unrealistic. I never understood why Jonah reached out to Bea when he never reached out to anyone else. And their friendship just seemed too strong too fast.
The book meanders along with various plot points that I won't give away but it's really about these two characters, with side appearances from their classmates and rather disturbed parents. The detached Bea is clearly very attached to Jonah, but still keeps her emotions hidden away. Jonah is a very complicated character. He was damaged forever after a car accident took the lives of his mother and twin brother, leaving him only with a jerk father. Jonah is depressed and angry at the world. He really cares for Bea but often masks that with mean sarcasm. Bea either finds this amusing or ignores it. I liked Jonah because I felt sorry for him, but sometimes he came close to cruelty.
The book is the same from the beginning to the end - depressing, bittersweet, and thoughtful. It's one of those book that grows on you with time. When I finished this months ago, I rated it a 3.5. Good but not great. But I can't get the book out of my head. It stuck with me as something special, going from good to nearly great. A very strange book, but an excellent one.
Rating: 4 / 5