Cover of Goodbye From Nowhere by Sara Zarr. A billboard with the title in a rural setting with a truck going by.

About the Book

Title: Goodbye From Nowhere
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Country Music Album
Drinking Buddy: You’ve Had Enough
MPAA Rating: So…
Talky Talk: Angsty
Bonus Factors: Big Happy Family, Showtunes
Bromance Status: Second Cousin

Cover Story: Country Music Album

It does look like the cover of a ‘best of’ country compilation, but the truck and the rural California landscape fits in nicely with the story. And the family farm is named ‘Nowhere Farm,’ so the title works.

The Deal:

Kyle Baker has a life many would envy. He’s a high school baseball star, he comes from a loving Mexican-American family, and it’s time for the annual family reunion at his grandparents’ vineyard, ‘Nowhere Farm.’ Even better, Kyle is in love. He’s taking his new girlfriend, Nadia, to the reunion. His extended family loves her. She loves them. Life is just perfect. She’s the kind of girl a guy could settle down with. Not that Kyle is thinking about that at seventeen, but seeing the happy marriages of his grandparents, his aunts and uncles, and his own mom and dad kind of make a guy look to the future. Things are good.

Until Kyle’s father gets him alone on a long drive and tells him that his mother ‘is seeing someone.’ She’s having an affair. Sleeping with another man. His beloved mother is doing the nasty with some other guy. Are his parents divorcing? What of the family contracting business? How can he look his mother in the eye?

As a cherry on top, his grandparents are selling the family farm. The idyllic life Kyle knew comes crashing to a sudden, grinding halt.

Drinking Buddy: You’ve Had Enough

Two pints of beer cheersing

So Kyle’s life kind of falls apart all of a sudden. His father is depressed and his mother just kind of ignores Kyle’s simmering anger and isolation, saying that she’s allowed to have a life. His parents aren’t telling anyone, so he has to put on a happy face to his extended family. Angry and morose, Kyle stops attending baseball practice and completely ghosts Nadia, to the extent that she has to corner him to make the breakup official.

Now I get this. His world is falling apart. But bailing on your girlfriend like that, it was kind of mean. I wanted to take his side, but it was hard.

MPAA Rating: So…

Now Kyle is not completely alone. He has Emily. Emily is a girl he’s known most of his life. His best friend. Someone he can share anything with. Someone who understands how hurt he is by his mother’s betrayal. Someone who will talk to him, hug him, and be there for him when he needs her the most.

In another book, it would be totally obvious that Emily was the true romantic interest. But the thing is…Emily is his first cousin. As I read this book I went from ‘I’m imagining things,’ to ‘Is Zarr really going to go there?’ to ‘This dude is totally going to f**k his cousin.’ He didn’t, but I was waiting for it, especially when they spent the night alone together in the old bunkhouse.

I’m not imagining this, am I?

Mostly, all he wanted was to study her. Notice all the things about her he never had, because she’d just been Emily. Like her grayish eyes, and the strong shape of her nose…The haircut he’d been so weird about showed her neck, and in the light by the window he could see the halo of fine, light hair on her skin.


Emily folded her hands behind her head and gave Kyle this look, a look so direct and open and beaming out this pure Emily spirit that he almost wanted to hide. That feeling was overridden by how much he wanted to soak it in.


The afternoon light washed her in soft yellow. She had bedhead, and dirt under her nails…Kyle felt like his heart was being crushed by the realness of her, but in a good way.

Maybe I have a dirty mind, but when Kyle’s sister started teasing him about how dating your cousin used to be acceptable, I was wondering just how edgy this book was going to get.

Talky Talk: Angsty

So how do I rate this? On the one hand, Kyle acts like a jerk to his girlfriend, his team, and to a lesser extent, his family. On the other, there was the whole weird cousin vibe. I really, really would have either made Emily some kind of family friend who was ‘like’ a cousin, or dropped that subplot entirely.

At the same time, Kyle was not without his charm. Like a lot of middle class teens, Kyle assumed that his life would never change except for the better. He’s having a hard time accepting the fact that his mother is not only flawed, but she’s unapologetic about it. His parents are staying together (at least for the time being) for the sake of the family business, so they’re all kind of forced to play house until they decide on the future. Kyle is suddenly without a mother to buy groceries and take care of the house. But maybe it’s time Kyle didn’t depend on her for those things.

Finally, as punishment for blowing off baseball season, Kyle is forced to volunteer to coach a youth baseball league. And he finds out he kind of likes it. He’s kind of good at it. Maybe he doesn’t have a mentor, but he could be one.

Accept the fact your mother isn’t perfect and that youth must end, and you’ll be okay, Kyle.

Bonus Factor: Big Happy Family

A book open with a family tree growing out of it

Kyle comes from a huge family who meets for a fun reunion on the family farm every year. Cousins, aunts, uncles, two sets of grandparents, the works. Barbecues, manual labor, movies, games, he looks forward to it all year. That’s why he brought Nadia, so she could share in the fun.

Except, now it’s dying. His mother, who married into all this, won’t be attending in the future. In fact, she’s already making excuses. The grandparents are going to sell the farm. And even without all that, things aren’t perfect. One of Kyle’s sisters refuses to talk to his parents. Not all the cousins get alone as well as Kyle and Emily (perhaps a good thing). Things change, Kyle.

Bonus Factor: Show Tunes

Screen shot from High School Musical with students singing and dancing in the gym

Macho, athletic Kyle likes to escape from reality with his family’s extensive collection of Hollywood musicals on VHS, something his cousins view with excitement, apathy, or annoyance. And when his family starts to slip apart, the songs are a refuge in a world he no longer understands.

Bromance Status: Second Cousin

You’re like the second cousin I see once or twice a year. I like hanging out with you occasionally, but that’s all.

Literary Matchmaking

The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction

In Amy Brashear’s The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction, another kid has to deal with her mother’s unfaithfulness.

Where I End and You Begin

Or in Preston Norton’s Where I End and Your Begin.

Summer of the Mariposas

For another grim story about a close-knit Mexican-American family, read Summer of the Mariposas, by Guadelupe Garcia McCall.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or VHS copies of Annie. Also, since no one ever bothers to read these disclaimers, I’d just like to say that a week before Christmas 2000, my parents announced to my sister and I that they were divorcing after nearly thirty years of marriage and we had to put on smiley faces because it was our turn to host Christmas, but the entire time I was home (and I was living out of the country at the time, so I was stuck there for two weeks) I was just fucking screaming inside. I was 25, that’s not the age you have to face your parents divorce! During the entire ordeal, only two people ever asked me how I was doing, and they weren’t my parents. Feels good to finally get that off my chest. Jesus.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.