Usually, I’m skeptical when people claim a book made them laugh out loud. I mean, I love to laugh. I’m no monster. But very rarely does a book move me to literally laugh out loud (LLOL, let’s get this abbreviation started). I look at people who laugh out loud while reading books in public places kind of like I looked at the students in my college lit classes who would make that weird “mmmm” noise during class discussions to make sure everyone knew they were way deep and totally understood the book. So trust that I’m not exaggerating when I say that Natalie Standiford’s How To Say Goodbye In Robot made me LLOL.
It also made me tear up, but we’ll get to that part later.
When Bea moves to Baltimore and starts a new school, she notices Jonah right away. He’s pale, he seems to hate everyone, and the other kids call him “Ghost Boy”. Despite his cold demeanor, the two of them bond through their love of late night radio. The Night Light Show is hosted by Herb Horvath and is populated by characters who seem like they’d be at home in a Daniel Clowes comic. Their lives are funny and sad, hopeful and tragic. Bea and Jonah are both dealing with troubles of their own. Both of them have problems with their families, and both of them have trouble fitting in. They’re a couple of weirdos–Ghost Boy and Robot Girl–who really only need each other.
As you guys know, I’m a fan of romance, and I’m usually happy to swoon over YA love interests like that’s a normal thing for an adult woman to do. Even though I’d consider this book a love story, it’s not really a romance. Love can take a lot of different forms, and for Jonah and Bea, it doesn’t involve sex or even kissing. It involves a deep, sometimes dangerous, connection. It involves a lot of hurt. The title is a bit of a tipoff that things are going to get sad. I’ll refrain from spoilers (although, honestly, you won’t be able to guess what’s going to happen in this book…it’s not predictable), but I will tell you that instead of giving me heart flutters, HTSGBIR just broke my heart at the beginning and then kept breaking it, over and over. But it was also really, really funny, so I can’t even be too upset that it was so sad.
The situations in HTSGBIR may be pretty extreme, but the book itself always felt painfully realistic. It reminded me of some of my favorite books, including the aforementioned Ghost World, Why We Broke Up, and especially Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts. How To Say Goodbye In Robot lodged itself in my heart, and I know I’m going to be thinking about it for a really long time.
-Late night radio! Seriously, this book prompted me to research the weird and wonderful world of nighttime radio, and I feel like I’ve learned so much. In the book’s acknowledgements, Natalie Standiford mentions the show Coast to Coast AM. I listened to an episode while writing this and now I know a lot about angels who walk among us and also extraterrestrials.
-Baltimore! Before reading this book, I knew the same two things about Baltimore that everyone else does: John Waters and The Wire (which I haven’t even watched, but I hear it’s great and I trust the internet’s opinion). HTSGBIR makes Baltimore sound fabulously weird, and it also mentions John Waters.
-Nicknames! In high school (and also college, if I’m being honest), my friends and I had nicknames for everyone. All of our crushes, all the people we hated, our principal, our teachers, everyone. So I thought it was an extra-realistic that Bea and her classmates had nicknames for everyone.
-Realistic parents! Even though Bea’s parents were flawed (very flawed), they never devolved into cartoonish villain parents. They always seemed like real people. I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I’m an elderly woman now (I’m 27) and I’m technically old enough to have one or several children, but now I find myself really appreciating a well-rounded parent character when I come across one. Life, guys! Just like Stevie Nicks says, “time makes you bolder, children get older, I’m getting older too.” Fun fact: she wrote that song about reading YA books.
-If you love How to Say Goodbye in Robot as much as I did, be sure to check out Natalie Standiford’s other books. In fact, she just came out with a new one, The Boy On The Bridge. Russia! Soviets! Romance! It sounds perfect.
What about you guys? Have you read How To Say Goodbye In Robot? Are you in love with it? And have you ever listened to late night radio? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at email@example.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.