What: How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? by Yvonne Cassidy
When: March 8th 2016
How: A copy of this novel was provided by Flux for review via Net Galley.
It’s been almost eleven years since Rhea Farrell last wrote to her mother.
It was a Friday night ritual – until Rhea’s father decided it was stupid to write letters to a dead person. That was the summer before the accident. The summer before Rhea began to keep her first secret.
Now about to turn eighteen, Rhea finds herself alone on the streets of New York with nobody to talk to about the future, or the past. So, just like she used to do as a little girl, she begins a letter with the words ‘Dear Mum’ and tells her mother the things she can’t tell anyone else.
In the city where Allison Farrell was born, her daughter begins to delve into her past. And as she uncovers more about who her mother truly was, Rhea starts to figure out exactly who she herself wants to be. And that sometimes it takes longer than you think to say goodbye…
There were three main things that prevented me from liking How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? The first was the main character, Rhea. I just didn’t like her, and I didn’t connect to her on an emotional level, either. I’ve read books with unlikeable main characters before, but there were aspects of Rhea’s personality that pushed her over the edge of likeable unlikeableness (which is a thing). One of those aspects was how she treated literally everyone she interacted with. I don’t think there was a moment in How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? where Rhea was nice to anyone.
She was a shitty friend to Sergei, who is a character at the beginning of the book but disappears without a trace about a third of the way in. And Rhea never thinks about him again, really. Or wonders if he’s doing okay.
She was rude and ungrateful to the woman who let Rhea live with her, and then helped her find a job. She was pretty outright disgusting to the psychologist at the camp where she worked. She laughed when a fellow workmate said that she was questioning her sexuality. She wasn’t even that nice to the girl who she claimed to have loved (at the end of the novel, especially so). She cut off all communication with her best friend back in Ireland for really no reason at all. She was monosyllabic and uncaring about her aunt, even when the woman apologised over and over again and said how much she cared about Rhea.
I just couldn’t warm to a character that only thought about herself, constantly misjudged people, and convinced herself that the entire freaking world was out to get her. I also thought it was highly unrealistic that everyone kept on trying with her. Her aunt apologised time and time again, and said that she would literally do ANYTHING to make Rhea happy. The psychologist was patient and caring, and tried to help Rhea – even though it wasn’t her job. Her co-worker still tried to be her friend, even after she was an A-grade bitch. And the woman who let Rhea live with her was just always so understanding.
I just don’t think that that many people would have enough patience, or care about Rhea that much to put up with her constant shit. I was sick of her, and I was supposed to care about her. But all I saw was a girl who saw hardship as an excuse to treat everyone like crap.
The second was the length of the novel. It was just far too long. There were passages that were repeated, and reveals that took way too long to get to. I suppose there was supposed to be an element of suspense in regards to Rhea’s own background, as well as that of her mother’s, but I guessed most of it, and was just waiting for Rhea to catch on.
The fact that Rhea wrote “fifty kinds of crazy” about fifty times per letter really got on my nerves, too.
I did like the structure – the fact that it was written in letters, but sometimes I felt like this didn’t really work, especially when Rhea read her own mother’s letters. If I was reading them, did that mean Rhea had rewritten them out in her notebook?
Thirdly, I feel like How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? was a novel that covered a lot of topics (sexuality, homelessness, and suicide at the forefront), but I don’t feel like any of them received adequate attention – Rhea’s sexuality in particular. Rhea’s sexual orientation was abruptly revealed, and she expressed a strong disliking to being referenced as gay. Her intense reactions to being called a lesbian were never really explained (there was only one tiny line from a memory of her father that I assumed was the connection), and there was no exploration of possible internalised homophobia, or a reference to a future possibility of Rhea overcoming it.
Unfortunately, How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? was really not for me.
© 2016, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.
trigger warning: attempted suicide, suicide, child molestation, homelessness, bullying, domestic violence, death by drunk driving, alcoholic parent, loss of limb (via machinery), ableism, and homophobia in this novel