Bonnie Wiston-Stanley is 15 ¾ years old, a fact of some significance in this unputdownable novel. She is also, according to her best pal, Eden ‘…the most steady, most reliable friend in the world.’ Except, wouldn’t you expect your closest friend to tell you if she was planning to run away with a secret boyfriend? And what horrors would be unleashed if that boyfriend turned out to be your school music teacher? Recently crowned winner of the YA Book Prize 2019, Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard is simply the most riveting book I’ve reviewed so far this year.
Eden describes Bonnie as the classic straight A’s Head Girl type, her composure a sharp contrast to Eden’s chaotic spirit. As for the music teacher, Mr Cohn, well we all know his type. An ironically cardiganed hipster, prone to calling his students ‘dude’ (cue eye-rolling parents everywhere).
Sara Barnard directs their relationship offstage while the book’s real focus is Eden as she struggles to process what’s happened. Having absconded, Bonnie keeps in regular phone contact, not realising the burden this places on her friend as the consequences of the illicit relationship ripple outwards from family to police to full-blown media furore.
Bonnie is blasé about the teacher-pupil taboo and age gap. It’s so prudish she declares. ‘Love is love, Eden. However old you are.’ Eden wonders whether this can be true and we follow her internal battle as she considers whether to reveal the couple’s whereabouts.
Sexual grooming, teenage stress, and the complex layers of Eden’s own life are put under the author’s microscope, and as GCSEs loom and the tabloids ramp up their inevitable ‘pervert’ teacher stories, Eden comes to a decision. Never heavy-handed, Barnard nudges Eden to consider how youth necessarily means lacking the perspective to analyse certain choices.
With depth, pace and drama, this is a fabulous and worthy prize winner.
Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard is published by MacMillan Children’s Books, 320 pages.