Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: How to Say Goodbye in Robot

Natalie Standiford
Scholastic Paperbacks
Bea's (crazy?) mother has accused her of being a robot and Jonah, the boy she meets on her first day in a new school, is called a g-g-g-ghost by fellow students. And he does, with his pale skin and white hair and habit of not talking to others, seem like a ghost. The two of them forge a friendship based on secrets and the late night call-in radio show they both love. They're freaks, but they're freaks together. This is a love story, but not quite a romance, that in some ways reminds me of Sara Zarr's Sweethearts and in other ways reminds me of The Perks of Being A Wallflower. It's weird and sometimes that weirdness is incredibly wonderful, but other times it's not.

Very rarely do I come across a book that I honestly don't know my feelings for. It's happened before, with Invincible Summer, and it happened again with this book. Bea is more than a little offbeat and her chicken-obsessed mother is even stranger, but Bea's weirdness is relatable. She sort of seeks out strangeness and when she finds it in Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, she goes a little off. She's not in love with him, but she does love him and the two of them, together, make up their own little universe. This all-encompasing friendship is something I have no issues with and it works well except when it doesn't. Because while Bea's offbeat and strange, there's a desperation and sadness to Jonah that permeates the novel and this gives their relationship an imbalance I was uneasy about. Bea drops her plans on more than one occasion to be with him whereas he has a difficult time keeping even pre-planned commitments to her and when he does want to be with her it's always spur-of-the-moment, on his own time. It wasn't that he didn't want to be there for her, but more than he was in some ways incapable of it. And while I understand that, I can't quite get past the fact that this is exactly the sort of friendship that makes me uneasy and upset.

Aside from the imbalance in their friendship, the wacky world created here felt absolutely organic. I loved the Night Lights radio show and found the transcripts from it some of the best parts of the book in a quietly comforting way. The places Bea and Jonah go, including a bookstore/bar and a party for people from the future, are weird in a really great way and seeing this world so different from Bea's life at school or with her dysfunctional parents, was one of the most amazing parts of the book. There were certain things in the story that I wanted more of - for instance the character of Walt was a favorite of mine and I wished he were a bigger part of the story while at the same time realized that if he were it wouldn't have had the same feeling or plot.

This is a book that almost seems to be from a different world. Robot Girl (Bea) and Ghost Boy's (Jonah) adventures are wonderfully, incredibly quirky, and the ending was one I didn't see coming but in retrospect seems almost obvious. My biggest issues were with the far-from-perfect friendship that both Bea and Jonah idealized, but I realize this probably won't be as big of an issue for others.


  1. I actually liked this one, though it didn't really stick with me at all. It'll make for a great re-read. Sad ending, though.

  2. I loved the characters on the radio show. I loved Bea's weird and wacky world.

    And MAN I love that cover.

  3. Jenny
    Definitely sad. Although in retrospect, doesn't it kind of seem like that would OF COURSE happen? Even though it's such a weird thing?

    Gosh I love that radio show. AND THE COVER, yes.