Wednesday, February 23, 2011

review : how to say goodbye in robot

How to Say Goodbye in Robot, Natalie Standiford (Scholastic)

I looked at the dead Goebbels. The moment seemed to call for a bit of ceremony, a gesture of some sort. So I stiffened my limbs and held my hands flat and straight, like a mime. With an expressionless face I jerked my hands over the gerbil's little body and squeaked, "Ee er oo. Ee er ee. Eh-eh."
Mom lifted her head. "Oh my God," she said. "What are you doing?"
"I'm giving the gerbil a final benediction," I said. "In Robot."

All fantastic young adult books are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This is such a book. How to Say Goodbye in Robot stands out heads, shoulders, antennae above the rest as an extremely well-written and superbly-crafted novel. It explores love and loss, families and friendship, our place in the world and a sense of belonging - as well as the connections we make along the way. It's so easy to read that I think readers might miss just how deliberate and necessary everything in the book was.*

Beatrice's mother calls her heartless. (Bea bangs on her belly to try to hear the hollow clang of her empty robot self.) Bea puts herself to sleep at night by imagining her own death in various dramatic scenarios and by listening to late-night radio talkback shows, and when she and her parents move to Baltimore she meets the prickly and unfriendly Jonah who introduces her to the strange and wonderful nocturnal community that make up the Night Lights, his local radio talk-back gang. Jonah and Bea strike up a fairly tumultuous, but significant, platonic relationship.

Jonah was nicknamed Ghost Boy by his classmates long before Bea arrived in town, when, following the deaths of his mother and disabled twin brother Matthew in a car accident, he became withdrawn and not-entirely-there. He comes to life with Bea and when it turns out that his brother may not actually be dead at all, but shut up in an institution somewhere at the behest of his father, Jonah truly comes alive and the two of them concoct elaborate plans to find Matthew and maybe even bust him out.

The plot may sound far-fetched, but it all works. The real joy of this book is that it's a complete depiction of life. The relationship between Bea and Jonah just driving the plot through such a rich world and this is what makes the book ring so true and feel so real: the girls from school, Anne Sweeney and AWAE, and the boys, Tom and Walt; the Night Lighters (especially Kreplax and Don Berman, my particular favourites); and Bea's sad parents. The reader is thrown right into the action, we don't get a lot of unnecessary exposition and Standiford doesn't ever linger on, or overstate any one point. Everything comes together to demonstrate the singularity of people and also how important it is to connect and share with one another.

This is a heartbreaking, but also a (an?) hysterically funny novel. Reminiscent of John Green's brilliant Paper Towns and the bittersweet Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.


*other books I feel this about: King Dork by Frank Pullman, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and the brand new Angel Creek by Sally Rippin


  1. Freaky - I was just writing about this! I loved this book too :)


  2. Wow! I definitely want to read this book now.

  3. yes! it's excellent. love love love.

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  9. How To Say Goodbye In Robot is not a perfect novel. There are slow bits, awkward transitions, and other problems just as most books have. However, this book is a pinnacle in its description of the human experience. All of the characters feel real, and their problems are there to see in a resonating way after the book is closed. One of my favorite novels.

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