On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan only have one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they’ll retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night will lead them to friends and family, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?
Tell Me More: Goodbyes have defined points in my life far more clearly than beginnings, and Jennifer E. Smith captures the uncertainty of those endings with a light and steady hand in Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. Clare and Aidan’s final night together before departing for university is related in alternating perspectives, giving the reader ample page time to know both characters.
Smith’s previous books have all dealt with the start of relationships: the tentative steps forward, the numerous misunderstandings, and the decision to move forward together anyway. Hello, Goodbye is the end of a relationship, one that we don’t even see play out before we’re told that it has to end. The challenge of the novel is making the reader believe that this is a relationship worth following, even in its final hours, and that Clare and Aidan are making the right decision for them.
What’s most interesting is that Smith herself doesn’t even seem to pick a side. The flow of the night is natural, paced a tad cautiously as it follows Clare’s itinerary through the places that have meant something to the couple. Their history isn’t on full display, but it doesn’t have to be–we don’t need to know every detail of the hours they spent in those places, but we do see how they remember them, and the reaction each stop elicits provides more meaningful commentary.
The dialogue is equally measured, though there is a fair share of banter and flirting between Clare and Aidan. I also appreciated the tension that Smith works into the short conversations between Clare and her best friend Stella. It’s easy to see how the impending breakup has affected Clare in her interactions with other people, and what she thinks she deserves to feel and have. It’s easy to recognize the fear that all of the characters feel for the changes in their lives, and how fast those changes seem to be coming.
The Final Say: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between is a book for those moments of hopeful nostalgia, of looking back and picking out those days when you could have made a different choice, and of knowing you’d probably choose the same thing anyway. It may not appeal to some readers as much as it will those of us who’ve felt defined by our endings, and been unsure of a beginning.
Jennifer E. Smith is the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Storm Makers, You Are Here, and The Comeback Season. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Her writing has been translated into 28 languages.