Six Goodbyes We Never Said by Candace Ganger
Naima Rodriguez doesn’t want your patronizing sympathy as she grieves her father, her hero—a fallen Marine. She’ll hate you forever if you ask her to open up and remember him “as he was,” though that’s all her loving family wants her to do in order to manage her complex OCD and GAD. She’d rather everyone back the-eff off while she separates her Lucky Charms marshmallows into six, always six, Ziploc bags, while she avoids friends and people and living the life her father so desperately wanted for her.
Dew respectfully requests a little more time to process the sudden loss of his parents. It's causing an avalanche of secret anxieties, so he counts on his trusty voice recorder to convey the things he can’t otherwise say aloud. He could really use a friend to navigate a life swimming with pain and loss and all the lovely moments in between. And then he meets Naima and everything’s changed—just not in the way he, or she, expects.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It took me a little while to untangle the threads of this book, but once I did, I thought it was wonderful.
Six Goodbyes We Never Said is a story about grief and growth. Both characters have a mental health condition – Naima has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) while Andrew “Dew” has PTSD. Both characters are orphans. Both characters are trying to process the loss of their parents. Candace Ganger opens up in the introduction to say that these mental health conditions are one she is or has experienced, and she’s split them into the two characters as though Naima and Dew are two parts of herself. The writing feels deep and emotive and genuine.
If for nothing else, I recommend reading Six Goodbyes We Never Said for the incredibly well-done mental health rep. I understand not all experiences will be the same, but this is written well enough that you can feel the characters’ pain. Candace Ganger made an excellent choice in creating sweet Dew as a buffer for Naima’s deep negativity. She’s made the characters more accessible in that way, and even if you don’t love them, they’re interesting.
A couple other mental health related things that Ganger has done well? The therapy. There’s only a couple scenes actually in therapy, but she hasn’t allowed the sessions or conversation fall into the usual drivel or settled them into stereotypes. Dew takes to therapy and does his best; Naima hates it, and doesn’t want to go back, but constantly falls back on methods and conversations she’s had with old therapists. It’s really nice to see a novel including therapy as a positive tool while also not drawing too much attention to it.
I’d also like to draw attention to the support system surrounding each character. This falls into all the minor characters – Dew’s adoptive family, their coworkers, Naima’s grandparents and step-mother. Sometimes the support pillars make mistakes, but for the most part, they listen to the needs of Naima and Dew and push them gently to move forward. It was, again, really nice to see the support system intertwined so well, and there’s guidance there for those who cannot relate to the protagonists but know or love someone like them. Violet was my favorite, and Faith is simply adorable.
As far as story goes, Six Goodbyes We Never Said doesn’t have a traditional plot. It’s a short journey, and a character-driven story. Neither of the characters have enough time to fully heal in this book – if anything, it’s their transition to acceptance told in these pages. There were many, many times when I felt like crying because their stories as so sad and Naimi has so much fear and Dew is so selfless. Despite not having a high-action plot with lots of twists and turns, it’s easy to be engrossed and love the characters.
All in all, I easily recommend this story. It’s sad, but it’s sweet, and I liked seeing the amazing mental health rep without any sugarcoating. There was a lot in the details I enjoyed – like the venus fly trap named Penelope-Smellope and Stella trying to steer Faith away from her obsession with Rick Flair. The only things that bothered me were the formatting (possible unique to the eBook, and doubly possible that it was unique to the eGalley) and there were moments in Naima’s voice that bothered me a little bit (like her abbreviating curse words) because I felt it broke up the flow. These were minor things, and nothing that ruined the book.
If you like contemporaries that will make you a little teary, Six Goodbyes We Never Said is a good fit. I think this was what I was looking for when I read Love & Other Carnivorous Plants last year. There’s a little diversity rep (Dew has a latinx background, Naimi is pansexual), but the character personalities are wonderfully all over the place, and as I mentioned, this is an #OwnVoices mental health rep. Generally a quick read, with lovable characters.
Do you have any habits that comfort you? Naima picks all the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms cereal. I’m a ferocious journaller when I need comfort. How do you cope? If you’re comfortable, share your methods in the comments.