Wow. So, it hasn’t been too long since I completely gushed over Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. Well, of course when I got my hands on a copy of Goodbye Days, I absolutely loved it as well. Like, seriously. One of those books where you procrastinate the important thing you should be doing (in my case – packing,) because you just cannot stop reading. In this gripping novel by Zentner, we meet teenager Blade living in Nashville, TN. The story opens with Blade attending yet another one of his best friend’s funerals. That enough is a shock, right? Well, unfortunately – it’s the third funeral. Blade’s best friends Mars, Blake, and Eli were killed in a car accident while he was at work. The accident occurred when Blade was sending a text message to the friend driving, Mars. The families of Blade’s friends each respond a bit differently to the tragedy. Some of them are kind, open, and forgiving (at least in trying to console the fault he’s placed on himself,) but others are not so comforting – casting off blame, guilt, and bitterness. Blade’s parents are loving and kind but he doesn’t have very open communication with them. He’s close with his older sister, Georgia but she’s about to head off to college, so he needs to confide in someone. In comes Jesmyn, who was Eli’s girlfriend. She moved to Nashville over the summer, and had met Eli at a music camp. It’s an absolutely awful circumstance to bring two people together, but Jesmyn and Blade both need someone to talk to, someone who can at least slightly get what they’re going through. (It doesn’t help that they go to school with Eli’s twin sister who definitely blames Blade for everything.) So, not only is Blade trying to navigate the pain and guilt of suddenly losing the three closest people in his life all at once – he has a giant black legal cloud hanging over his head. Mars dad decides to pursue a criminal investigation. You’d probably be having panic attacks to if you were him, right? Well, at least Georgia talks some sense into Blade (or forces some on him basically) by taking him to her therapist, so he is at least talking to a professional. In the meantime, Blade spends time with Blake’s grandmother. She is grieving immensely as well. It makes me tear up just thinking about her scenes in the book. Blake’s mom was in no position to have a child, so when Blake was younger his grandma basically rescued him from a bad situation. Blake and his Nana were a team, that’s for sure. Blade tried to help around the house in ways that Blake used to, as if the tasks could help alleviate some of his guilt but also because he truly cared for Nana as well. On one of these days, is when Blake’s Nana proposed the idea of a “goodbye day” where she and Blade would do all the things that she wished she could’ve done with Blake on a last day together. The emotional enormity of such a situation is overwhelming even to consider. It’s just as literally heart-wrenching as it sounds, but it’s still…a journey you want to go on with him. Zentner writes this story in such a beautiful way. You experience Blade’s grief with him, and his stumbles as he tries to navigate life, writer’s block, planning college essays even though he’s devastated that his best friends don’t have those futures to look forward to anymore. This book is absolutely heart-wrenching, but also beautiful, and complicated and doesn’t that all just describe how life is, anyway? It amazes me the stories Zentner has within him to share, and the way they navigate such huge life topics that feel like they can swallow you whole. When you finish reading though, you’re not left in a pit of despair, there’s hope and there’s growth, and there’s the progression of life because you’ve gotta keep going. One of those reminders you can’t hold everything in, and it shows how art and communication, and reaching out, and sometimes just being yourself in whatever emotion you’re feeling – right in that moment, is how you keep taking baby steps forward. This is a heavy story, but a wonderful one – I highly recommend you check it out!