*WARNING* How to Say Goodbye in Robot is not sci-fi. It is not WALL-E. Robot does not involve futuristic technologies of any kind – in fact, author Natalie Standiford embraces and utilizes the polar opposite in this completely straightforward non-genre fiction. And by polar opposite, I’m talkin’ rotary phones, old movies, and the art of the late night radio show.
Protagonist Bea (trice) is a robot, according to her slightly off-the-rails-crazy mother. Cold, removed, unfeeling – robot. Or maybe, Bea has given up on human connection by the time her serial moving family finally lands in Baltimore for her senior year of high school. As Bea is forced to navigate a tiny, exclusive private school with only a handful of students per grade, she wonders if maybe robot is the way to go. Who really wants to be friends with girls who nicknamed the grade’s second Ann AWAE (Ann-Without-An-E) because Anne-with-an-E was there first? Bea misses how her mom used to be, because currently her mom alternates between slightly manic and less-than-slightly depressive states. But really, Bea misses the late-night AM radio show she listened to in upstate New York. The Bob Decker Show: Late Night Talk – Can You Handle the Truth?
Then Jonah crash lands a paper airplane into Bea’s lunch tray, and she meets the Night Light AM radio show. Two friendless, unhappy insomniacs, one boy and one girl, who meet in real life as Bea and Jonah and on the radio as Ghost Boy and Robot Girl. Add in Jonah/Ghost Boy’s secret past, and you have a recipe for heterosexual romance, right? Wrong…kind of.
Standiford really let me down in the way of character development. Bea’s mother’s mysterious descent into house-wife crazy is intriguing, but largely unexplored by the end of Robot. Jonah’s mysterious, lying father is equal parts pitiable and evil…but why? Jonah and Bea develop a brilliant, loving relationship that is markedly unique from the boy-girl relationships that pepper Young Adult fiction, but it feels rushed. Maybe I was spoiled by the meandering fruition of Eleanor and Park and Cath and Levi, but I was almost surprised by the made-for-tv-movie suddenness of Jonah and Bea.
Despite complaints, Standiford committed to things new and/or rarely attempted in YA fiction. I highly recommend How to Say Goodbye in Robot for those who want real-world fiction with minimal focus on romance.
Read if you like: the good ol’ days, insomnia, Baltimore, old fashioned radio shows, lonely misfits
Don’t read if you like: super top-notch technology and nothing else EVER
-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who plans to start calling her friend Ann AWAE)