Last month, two cooler-than-cool young adult authors– Julie Buxbaum and Jeff Zentner– stopped by one of our local library branches on a tour, and I totally fangirled it. Julie wrote one of the most heartfelt books I read last year called, Tell Me Three Things, and she FaceTimed with our teachers’ summer book club after we read it. Her newest book, due out in July, is called, What to Say Next. I can’t wait to read it.
Jeff Zentner is the author of The Serpent King and, most recently, Goodbye Days. I was amazed to learn that Jeff spends his days working as a prosecuting attorney in Nashville and even more amazed that he does the majority of his writing on his phone during his commute! These are the delightful details you learn when you see authors in person! By the way, most of these author visits are FREE to attend.
I read Goodbye Days shortly before I saw Jeff speak, so the story was fresh in my mind. A couple of months later, I am still thinking about this book and the emotional punch it packs:
When we meet Carver Briggs during the summer before before his senior year, he’s attending a funeral. Readers quickly learn that this is the third of three funerals Carver has attended: each for one of his three best friends. Mars, Eli and Blake were killed in a tragic car accident, and Carver’s grief is compounded by the fact he believes he is to blame for the boys’ deaths. On the night of the accident, Carver sent a text message to Mars who was driving Eli and Blake to meet Carver at work. While responding to Carver’s text, Mars hit a tractor-trailer at full speed which instantly killed all three teens. Mars’ father, a no-nonsense judge, is outspoken in his belief that Carver should be held accountable for his role in the accident, and Carver fears he’ll face criminal punishment for an act that has already cost him so much.
The book gets its title from Carver’s attempts to honor his friends. Reluctantly, he agrees to take part in a “Goodbye Day” with Blake’s grandmother where the two celebrate Blake by spending a day doing all of his favorite things like fishing and eating fried chicken and lemon chess pie. When Eli’s parents learn about Blake’s “Goodbye Day,” they want one of their own to honor their son’s memory. Carver doesn’t take part in these experiences to redeem himself; he makes every effort to bring peace to the families he believes he has robbed. Carver is so likable, and readers will mourn right alongside him.
Benny’s “Goodbye Day”
As I mentioned in my first post, while reading Goodbye Days, I wondered how lemon chess pie tasted, and I even went so far as to find a recipe and buy the ingredients to make the pie. At the end of May, however, Mike and I suffered the loss of a family member– our sweet and fluffy dog, Benny– and I decided to take Jeff Zentner’s inadvertent suggestion and celebrate Benny with his own “Goodbye Day.”
Mike and I adopted Benny ten years ago as a buddy for our other, very anxious rescue dog, Rudy. Rudy, clearly a victim of abuse as a puppy, would run from the room if one of us sneezed. My mom once described him as “wild” because of how terrified he always seemed unless he was in my lap. Ben changed that. Ben’s calm demeanor and love of all people helped Rudy realize he was safe in our home. Often, when we had company, Ben would get so excited he would chase his tail, snarling and biting at it for good measure. He easily wagged his way into the hearts of nearly everyone who met him. He was just a great dog.
Sadly, our veterinarian diagnosed Benny with cancer last August. We were understandably devastated, but loved on him the best we could, even taking him and Rudy along with us on our vacation to Palm Beach, Florida over spring break. In May, his condition worsened, and we made the heart-wrenching decision to put him to sleep to ease the pain he clearly felt. We brought Rudy along with us to the vet, let Ben enjoy one last ice cream cone, and then I held him until the vet told us he had breathed his last breath.
Last week, Mike and I were as ready for Benny’s “Goodbye Day” as we thought we could be. We loaded up Rudy in the car, drove to a quaint nearby lake where we sometimes walk, and looked for the best place to scatter Ben’s ashes. There was a lone, purple flowering plant on the walking trail, and it made sense to put Ben there, near a bench overlooking the lake so he could greet strangers. Then, we walked away, determined to do a few of the things we knew Benny would enjoy.
First of all, we made a stop for ice cream. It was his final meal for a reason. That boy loved a “pup cup” from Dairy Queen. Rudy clearly enjoyed this part of the experience!
On the way home from our ice cream stop, we rolled down the windows, feeling the fresh air on our faces the way Benny loved to do.
When we got home, we all piled onto the couch to take a nap, Ben’s preferred afternoon activity.
Finally, we ate some snap peas, Ben’s favorite snack. I never could figure out why he preferred vegetables to nearly every other table scrap, but I think that just added to his charm.
I feel like reading Jeff Zentner’s book when I did– a month before Benny passed– was kismet, and as a result of celebrating Benny with a “Goodbye Day” of his own, I feel closure. I’m thankful to Jeff Zentner for writing a tender book that resonated with me at just the right time.
Thanks for reading. I promise the next post will be happier!