Three seventh-grade girls deal with the challenges of friendship, love, and change in Goodbye Stranger, the latest novel by Rebecca Stead, who won the 2010 Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me. Random House’s Wendy Lamb Books will release the book on August 4, with the final cover design, revised from the original, showcased here.

“It’s always hard for me to put my finger on my initial inspiration for a novel,” explained Stead of the book’s genesis. “It’s usually a collection of things, and thoughts percolating over time. I’d say Goodbye Stranger came from my thinking about and observing middle-school girls and the intense pressure they are under. It’s an interesting stage of life. Kids are changing so quickly, intellectually and physically, and have so many complicated questions about their identity, about how they see themselves, how others see them, and how they want to be seen.”

As in Stead’s earlier novels – in addition to When You Reach Me, she has written First Light and Liar & Spy – Stead’s inspiration for the characters in Goodbye Stranger came from a combination of sources. “They are such a mix of things,” she observed. “Things I’ve seen on Instagram, kids I see on the bus, conversations I overhear at the frozen yogurt place. And also my own memories of the intensity of emotions and occasional heartbreak at that age. But I don’t plan much when it comes to character and story – they develop along the way.”

It’s clearly a writing process that serves her fiction well. Wendy Lamb, who has been Stead’s editor from the start, recalled being impressed by her writing when they first met in the late 1990s, as students in a short-story writing class for adults in Manhattan. “We’d all read one another’s stories, and I responded powerfully to Rebecca’s writing,” she said. “Even then, when she was working as a young public defender, she had great assurance as a writer.”

A Fortuitous Reconnection

After their class ended, Stead and Lamb fell out of touch, until the author contacted the editor in 2003 to say she’d written a novel for children. Stead shared the manuscript with Lamb, who found it a “fascinating story,” and published it under her imprint as First Light. The editor observed that Stead “has a very direct and natural way of writing from a child’s point of view, and you believe the characters immediately. Their relationships grow and shift subtly – Rebecca builds everything so carefully, and always knows where she’s going.”

Relationships are very much a focus of Stead’s fiction, and one of her goals as a writer is creating “those moments when characters feel an emotional connection, and really recognize and accept each other. Almost always, there is love between people in those moments. That is so hard to capture, and is so personal, that I know that there’s no way every reader is going to see it that way. But I’m always hoping the greatest number possible will feel it.”

Both Lamb and Stead are pleased with the final cover of Goodbye Stranger, which was revised, the editor explained, to “make it a little more modern and urban. The new cover features the same art as the first, but we made some changes to give it a fresher design. Rebecca usually prefers not to show characters on her covers, but this novel is so centered on relationships that we thought it was important that the cover reflect that.”

The author is taking a break before deciding on her next project, noting, “It always takes me a while to separate from my last story.” Reflecting on her post-Newbery writing career, she observed that winning the medal was simultaneously “a huge shot of confidence and a big dose of self-awareness, and I think you can be too conscious of yourself when you’re writing. I make an analogy between receiving the Newbery and executing the perfect dive – you know you can’t do it every time! So winning was a mixed bag, but mostly it was overwhelmingly wonderful. It’s nice that some time has passed since then, and those initial reactions have faded. Now I feel like my regular, struggling self – once again.”

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Random House/Lamb, $16.99 Aug. ISBN 978-0-385-74317-4