"It's about love," says Newbery author Rebecca Stead, describing her new novel, Goodbye Stranger (Random House/Wendy Lamb, Aug.). "And when I say it's a love story, I mean all kinds of love. It's mostly about the love between friends." The best friends in the spotlight are three girls who, in their seventh-grade year, "end up diverging from one another in very different ways," says the author. "It's about how they figure out who they are."

Comparing her latest work to her previous titles, Stead cites both distinctions and similarities. "This one is a little older," she observes. "It's more complex in its structure, and the subject matter is a little more mature. There are questions of sexual identity, and one character wonders what it means when the whole world looks at you differently because your body has changed a lot."

Like Stead's earlier novels, Goodbye Stranger touches on issues of identity. "I'm always thinking about identity," she says. "And the middle-school years are a time of exploring questions about who you are and who you want to be. For the first time, you see the world in a broader sense. I remember having questions at that age about how the world saw me."

Such questions are typically the grist for Stead's writing mill. "I like to write about questions that interest me, not the conclusions I've come to," she says. "I try to write about internal experience versus the external self. I like to present ideas, but not package them neatly. As a reader, I much prefer to read a book where people embody all kinds of ideas and everybody is making mistakes."

At BEA, Stead is eager to feel what she calls "book excitement," about her own new release as well as other authors' projects. "As a writer, if I'm being good, I'm alone," she says. "When I do have a chance to get together with passionate book people, there is so much excitement and energy in talking about books that you love. And finding out that you've read and loved the same thing is always a great moment."

Looking further ahead, Stead says she is "gathering wool," mulling over what she might want to write next. "I'm going to take some time this summer and lie fallow, hopefully in an optimistic way," she says. In the meantime, fans can pick up ARCs of Goodbye Stranger during Stead's ticketed signing this morning, 9–10 a.m., at the Penguin Random House booth (3119), at Table 3. 

This article appeared in the May 28, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.