By Yvonne Cassidy
Available now from Flux
HOW MANY LETTERS ARE IN GOODBYE? was originally published in Ireland in 2014, but Flux has now brought it to the USA. It is the story of Rhea Farrell, who is homeless in New York when the story starts. She moved to Florida to live with her aunt's family after her father died, but was kicked out.
The story is told in letters to Rhea's mother, who drowned when Rhea was very young. This conceit did not work well from me, since the letters are usually very exact renditions of events (albeit through Rhea's biased point of view), complete with long passages of dialogue. There's no commitment to the form. Short letters between the narrative might've gotten the same point across and been more believable.
I did find the narrative compelling. Rhea is highly annoying in her self-absorption: everything is about her, even when other characters are telling her it isn't. At the same time, I understood why she was messed up. She lost an arm in an accident as a child, her mother drowned, her father was an alcoholic, and her first serious relationship ended with her getting kicked out of the house because it was with a girl. I thought it was wonderful that she got actual therapy. But Rhea's journey wasn't always an easy one to read.
Part of that is because Yvonne Cassidy knows how to write secondary characters who are clearly the heroes of their own story. I particularly missed her friend Sergei when he exited her life. He was a hustler in a relationship with a cheating, abusive man who Rhea encouraged him to stay with so they could live in his apartment. I got why their relationship ended, but I did hope for reconciliation once Rhea got some perspective.
HOW MANY LETTERS ARE IN GOODBYE? is a very weighty book. It's got suicide, alcoholism, teen homelessness, teen prostitution, domestic abuse, coming out going terribly awry - and it definitely aims to tug at the heartstrings in many parts. I thought it was a very realistic portrait of a teen girl who was struggling with her own identity and a need to accept help from others, and thought it succeeded on those grounds.