To profit or not to profit off of someone else’s heartbreak, that is the question at the core of The Goodbye Girls, a new YA novel by Lisa Harrington. The book’s high school characters have come to depend on technology to aid them in the dreaded task of breaking up with someone. Instead of putting themselves through painful face-to-face conversations, they’re relying on texts.
This may not seem that devastating in comparison to, say, ghosting or finding your significant other has changed their Facebook status to single, or that time Matt Damon broke up with Minnie Driver on Oprah – but text breakups are still pretty cold. When 16-year-old protagonist Lizzie and her best friend Willa hear about a classmate who dumped his girlfriend over SMS, Lizzie comments, “It’s too bad he couldn’t have hired a trained professional to break up for him.” And a business idea is born.
Willa and Lizzie will offer termination services to the student body of Halifax West High and in the process earn the money Lizzie needs to go on a class trip to New York City. Using the anonymous moniker the Goodbye Girls, the friends advertise breakup baskets, tailor-made for each dumpee, intended to ease the ensuing shock and pain. All a dumper needs to do is send – to the Goodbye Girls’ email account – a list of items their boyfriend or girlfriend likes and the address of where to drop off the basket. Then mail an envelope of cash to a P.O. box at Shoppers Drug Mart.
Business is booming and the girls are able to keep their identity secret, but the job is more complicated than they anticipate, especially when they start dropping off baskets to friends and siblings. And even more so when revenge baskets, filled with cruel notes and ironic items, start showing up on people’s doorsteps. The Goodbye Girls aren’t responsible for the mean baskets, but they end up taking the blame.
As if this is not enough to make Lizzie feel guilty, she’s come to realize that she’s falling for her older sister’s boyfriend – and he feels the same. Neither the business nor the requited crush end well. In fact, that’s one of the best things about Harrington’s story: Lizzie’s actions have consequences and all the relationships she compromises are not repaired by the end of the book.
There’s a lot to like about The Goodbye Girls. It’s topical, doesn’t take any easy outs, and it’s a fast, unsentimental read – whether you’re in high school or just remember it well.