Book Review: Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

If you aren’t aware of my pure love of Sarah Dessen’s work, feel free to check out my essay titled, “Discovering Dessen,” here.

I want to give a huge shout out to my OTSP Secret Sister for sending me an ARC of this book for my birthday, it was SUCH a wonderful surprise, and I read the whole novel in one sitting the night it arrived. Thank you so much!

Okay, now that my “business” is attended to, let’s get to the real reason any of you are here: the review of Dessen’s 13th novel. Her publishing career is officially a teenager! Now I’m embarassed because that was a ridiculous joke, but anyway…

Dessen never dawdles when it comes to kicking off her narratives and the voice of Louna comes to life immediately.  She’s headstrong, levelheaded, and really good at helping her mom out with the family wedding business. We find out rather quickly how cynical she is and how much pain she is in over a lost love, but the exact details about this are told in a very brilliant way.

Dessen weaves together flashbacks (told from most recent to the very beginning of the relationship that Louna had with her first love), and I think it’s absolutely wonderful.  Not only since she’s telling it backwards, kind of, but that there’s flashbacks to showcase the emotions that Louna was feeling and it really puts the reader head first into the same love that Louna felt.  Plus, we get some shoutouts to former characters and places from her books, which I always enjoy.  I know that some people don’t like the use of flashbacks as a narrative device, but I think Dessen’s way of doing it makes it much more fresh and less like an  old storytelling trick.

My Dessen Collection

I applaud Dessen for including a very heavy topic in this book that we haven’t really seen in her work before (don’t get me wrong, she’s had some very emotional topics), and I think she did it respectfully and showed the effect it can have.  It also brought tears to my eyes, but I guess it really wouldn’t be a Sarah Dessen book if I didn’t cry!

The meet cute for Louna and Ambrose is pretty adorable as she has to literally grab him and drag him to his own  mother’s wedding.  This is just a sneak peek of the shenanigans that Ambrose does throughout the whole novel.  In all honesty, he’s probably my favorite male character/love interest that Dessen has written since Dexter in This Lullaby.  Ambrose is witty, clumsy, laid back, and anxious at the same time.  He is fabulous. I do love how Dessen is able to show the reader, through Louna’s point of view, how much he cares for her…without Louna actually realizing it throughout the majority of the novel. It’s awesome.

Also, the secondary characters of Louna’s mom and her business partner are so well rounded in this novel too.  I think the main issue I have with some contemporary novels is that only the main couple characters will be fully fleshed out, but Dessen doesn’t do this in Once and For All.  They made me laugh out loud multiple times.

Keep an eye out for this one, out next week June 6.  You definitely don’t want to miss this.

5 Bards.

#ReadADessen Revew: This Lullaby

 

 

When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a review of This Lullaby just because it is extremely hard for me to try not to gush about how much I love this novel and try to give it an actual critique-type review.  I am going to try though, but be forewarned: this is one of my favorite books of all time, so be prepared for gush.

Let me start off by saying that Dessen does an excellent job of establishing Remy’s, the narrator, voice immediately.  Not only is Remy a bit snarky, but she has some serious sarcastic and bitchy moments that really help characterize her for the rest of the novel.  Remy has a rock solid group of girlfriends to spend the summer with before college, and a typical place to hang out and sneak drinks underage.  I had all of these things as well.  Probably one of the reasons when I read this originally when it came out I felt like Dessen was writing about my life and my initial love for the novel.

After reading it again, I find that I am impressed by Dessen’s story telling ability and the subtle growth that Remy makes as the book continues.  Not only does Remy’s attitude start to shift, but she begins to become the person she needs to be in order to succeed in life.

Dexter, oh Dexter.  What can I really say about my first laugh-out-loud enjoyment and crush on a fictional character?  This doofus would likely be the love of my life if he was real.  The whole scene where Dexter and John Miller are discussing their respective relationships while sitting outside the QuikZip is brilliant.  Kudos to Dessen to making such an endearing character so vibrant and, well, crushworthy.

I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes from This Lullaby, and an active plea for you to pick up a copy of this novel as soon as you can.  You will not regret it!

Favorite Quotes:

“Everything, in the end, comes down to timing. One second, one minute, one hour, could make all the difference. So much hanging on just these things, tiny increments that together build a life. Like words build a story, and what had Ted said? One word can change the entire world.”

“I meant what I said to you. I wasn’t playing some kind of summer game. Everything I said was true, from the first day. EVERY GODDAMN WORD.”

“Huffah.”

5 Bards to the story I’ve always loved and for the story I will always re-read.

fivebards

Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: Along for the Ride

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

I think the most wonderful thing about reading Dessen’s books after having met her and spoke with her about her characters is that while I can tell the difference between them, is that they have a specific thing in common.  Most of them are a bit socially awkward and have little experience in the social department, and Auden is no different.  Many of them are a bit bookish as well, which makes me love them more because I was the same way.  Auden is different from the others in that she is very independent.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to a diner by myself at 4:00 AM when I was that young.  Auden’s brave streak really flourishes in Dessen’s narrative, and I think that it really defines her more than her intelligence or her being an introvert.

Along for the Ride really exemplifies how the “journey” trope in a narrative can be used without a character going on an actual, physical journey (i.e. a road trip, destination trip, etc).  Auden goes on a metaphysical journey over the course of living in Colby for the summer.  She has her first sexual experience, makes her first girlfriends, learns that there is more to life than studying and academic achievement.  There are a lot of themes that run throughout this novel, discovering who you really are is one of them, but the other one is with family.  Dessen is practically an expert at exploring familial relationships and dynamics in her narratives.  Auden has to deal with her estranged parents and their expectations for her, her father’s remarriage and newborn child, and her flighty brother flitting around Europe.

This novel’s pacing is wonderful and the story is over before you even realize it.  The characters introduced throughout the story are all important to understanding the dynamics of friend groups and how important friends are to becoming the person you want to be.  I especially love the friendship that grows between Auden and Maggie throughout this story, because it starts off pretty rough, but they come to really know one another.  Auden’s romantic interest in the book, Eli, is someone who comes from a damaged background too.  I like that there is a certain aspect of them helping one another discover how to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Along for the Ride: 5 Bards

fivebards

 

 

 

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and read my reviews from the first two weeks of the Summer of Sarah Dessen.

Week 1 – Saint Anything
Week 2 – The Moon and More
Week 3 – That Summer

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

SummerwithSarahDessen

 

Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: That Summer

9780142401729_ThatSummer_CV.inddThe more things change…

As far as Haven is concerned, there’s just too much going on.

Everything is changing, and she’s not sure where she fits in.

Then her sister’s old boyfriend shows up, sparking memories of the summer when they were all happy and everything was perfect…

But along the way, Haven realizes that sometimes change is a good thing.

To be completely honest, it has been at least 10 years, if not more, since I originally read That Summer.  So while this novel isn’t one of my go to re-reads of Dessen’s, I still think that it is a really good exemplification of how much an author can grow from the beginning of their career to where they are now.  Speaking of NOW, you can check out my review of Sarah Dessen’s newest release, Saint Anything, by clicking on the title.

Anyway, there is a lot that goes on in That Summer, so much so that it can be an overwhelming narrative at times.  I think that Dessen has really improved from a narration stand point since this novel, but I also think that the jumbled narration fits really well with Haven’s character.  Haven is a girl who begins the novel stuck in the past.  She is constantly comparing the way things are currently in the story, with her parents divorced and her dad remarrying, to the way it once was during one specific summer.  Now, I firmly believe that Dessen did a superb job portraying Haven as a girl who looks back before she looks forward, and I believed it 100% because I was also that girl.  Haven is delightfully down to Earth and easy to relate to.

Ashley, her older sister, former serial dater turned conservative bride-to-be reminded me of a lot of girls that I knew in high school.  I found her to be very unrelatable, but I really liked the exploration of the sisterly bond and how it can ebb and flow over the course of changing personalities and the widening of different experiences.

I think that the thing I enjoy about all of Dessen’s novels is how the events of her novels really effect the family as a unit.  That Summer is more focused on that dynamic than some of her other books and I really think that since there isn’t a super sizzling romance involving the main character that a lot of readers didn’t enjoy the story.  But I think that this narrative is much more than that, it is really about the familial bond that can still be there under the duress of change.  Those with similar family issues would probably feel a very strong connection to this book, but even though I didn’t experience any of these, I really felt like I was witnessing a real experience.

4 Bards for That Summer.

fourbards

 

 

 

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and read my reviews from the first two weeks of the Summer of Sarah Dessen.

Week 1 – Saint Anything
Week 2 – The Moon and More

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

SummerwithSarahDessen

Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: The Moon and More

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

It is no secret that Sarah Dessen is an author who pretty much defined my high school years and her novel This Lullaby is still one of my favorite novels of all time. So when I got this book last summer I devoured it and then put it aside.  It is almost personal for me to write a review of a novel by Dessen, since I adore her work so much.  Well, I decided to suck it up and re-read The Moon and More so I could finally start doing some reviews of Dessen’s work (to go along with PenguinTeen’s SUMMER OF SARAH DESSEN initiative! Schedule is below).  Oh yeah, have I mentioned that Dessen is a North Carolina based author, and a lot of her summer stories feature landscapes and beaches from the Outer Banks?  Yay North Carolina!

sarahdessen signedAll of Dessen’s novels have endings that are perfectly fitting and satisfying.  Now, saying this, be aware that not all of the novels end with a happy romance or anything like that.  Some of the stories are more based on the individual destiny of the character and the outcome of familial issues.  The Moon and More is one that is more based in Emaline’s destiny than about romance, which means that the summary can be a little misleading.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of adorable romantic moments between Emaline and the two leading men, Theo and Luke, but the story is really about Emaline.

I love this about this novel because it really focuses on how Emaline has been disappointed by her family and the fact that she comes to realize that her dreams aren’t necessarily what she thought they were.  The novel basically outlines how Emaline comes to adore her half-brother, works hard the entire summer, and eventually she understands that the things that happen with her estranged Father are devastating, but that a relationship between them can still be salvaged.  It is especially a good read for those who aren’t 100% sure where their life is going, or if something has happened that is hard to recover from.  Go and read this book now.  Be sure to watch out for more of my Sarah Dessen reviews coming up…as I will be rereading my favorites!

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and my review of her latest novel, Saint Anything.

four.fivebards4.5 Bards

 

 

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

SummerwithSarahDessen

Summer of Sarah Dessen: Interview

Not only did I get the chance to meet one of my favorite young adult authors of all time, but Sarah Dessen is one of the reasons I started studying Children’s Literature.  Her novels are personal favorites and they are the books I revisit often when I need a comfortable story to reset my reading gauge.  My copies of her books are worn out from reading and re-reading; so much so that one has been replaced about 3 times now, one has been missing a slip cover since it came out in 2004, a few have wrinkled pages from various things being spilt on them over the years, and more than one have soft edges from being carried around in my purse for whenever the opportunity to read arose.

Before Dessen’s tour stop at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC (the inspiration for Lakeview, people!) I was able to sit down with her (and her beautiful daughter, Sasha) to ask a few questions.

SarahDessenSelfie

Selfie with Sarah!

Midsummer Reads (MR): The first thing I wanted to say is thanks for talking to me before your event!

Sarah Dessen (SD): Of course!

MR: And congrats on 12 books!

SD: I know, right? It’s so exciting. Every book is a surprise and an accomplishment. You’d think that by number 12 that I’d know what I was doing and I would feel secure but I don’t. I think it almost makes it worse because of the pressure to sort of keep the quality up and to keep the readers interested.

MR: Well there are those of us who have been reading them, you know, since we could.

SD: Yeah! I mean more and more on this tour in particular there are a lot of people that have come through and said they’ve been reading my books since they were in middle school and now they are in their twenties.

MR: Yeah.

SD: And I’m so grateful that they are still reading and that they want to keep reading YA. I’ve had a lot of people ask, “I wish you would write about people in their twenties,” “I wish you would write about people of different ages older ages.” But I just haven’t had that idea yet so I’m just waiting to see, you know?

MR: Well, it’s interesting because one of my friends from high school, well, when I got my Masters in Children’s Lit, you know, people were like that’s exciting you get to go to BEA and stuff, but you know I told them I get to interview you, this one girl got really excited, she’s an elementary school teacher, and said, “Tell her she’s got to write some stuff for elementary school kids. And I’ll share it with everybody!” And I said, “Okay, I’ll ask!”

SarahandSascha1

Sarah and a Shy Sasha

SD: I mean we (looking at Sasha) read a lot, we read amazing picture books together. and right now we are reading chapter books like Amelia Bedelia and the Amazing Princesses and stuff, but I feel like it is so much harder! Picture books are like poetry to me, people say like, “You should write a picture book,” like it is easy and I don’t even know how you do that. But I am getting to discover a lot more books through her (Sasha), which is awesome.

MR: Well that’s good.  This is kind of a personal question that I have from it: all of your books kind of have their own special little world, and there’s no real pop culture references, which I love because it doesn’t date the text. Was that intentional?

SD: Right.

MR: or was that accidental that you did?

SD: I think a lot of it is intentional. I think we’ve done some music that we’ve used but it’s always been older more classic music.  But I remember with Someone Like You, which was my second book back in 1998, and I remember there was a scene where Haley and Scarlet were in the doctor’s office and originally I had Haley reading a magazine, like People magazine, that had Brad Pitt on the cover. and my editor was like, “Brad Pitt?” You have to put someone else. So I thought, “Elvis! Elvis is forever,” and she was like, “No, these teens won’t know who that is.”  So I made it Frank Sinatra and she said, “Sinatra will be dead by the time this book comes out!” Which is funny because he died like 2 days before the book came out.

MR: Oh God, it is like she cursed him!

SD: But it’s tricky. You know I’ve been very hesitant about using technology and hesitant about doing text.

MR: I noticed that in Saint Anything.

SD: and you know the iPOD in Just Listen, you know, I think I called it something else. Because you want them to be timeless.  And I’ve gone back and read some books from my teen years and thought like these are really dated. And now some go back and update them, like Lauren Myracle did with her TTYL or whatever. But I feel like I want them to be timeless so you can go back and read them.

MR: And I honestly love that because it does make it so much fun to read and you know you connect it to your other books.

DessenTalking

Sarah taking questions

SD: The issues are timeless in some ways. I graduated high school a billion million years ago, but a lot of the same issues persist like the ones you have with your mom, issues with your friends, with your significant other, whoever that may be, your after school job. I mean a lot of that stuff doesn’t change and I think that is why YA is still appealing across the board to so many kinds of people. Whether you are in high school now or you were ever in high school you can relate to it.

MR: Right. I agree. Okay, if you had to pick one of your books for new readers to start with, which one would it be and why?

SD: I don’t know! I would pick either The Truth About Forever or Saint Anything. I’ve seen, this trip in particular, so many people coming through the line with The Truth About Forever dog-eared, coffee stained, wrinkled from the pool, pages highlighted, but I feel like Saint Anything is as good place to start to because it’s kind of a return to form.

(Sasha got a stool to sit on at this point.  Up until now she had been adorably sitting on her mom’s lap)

SD: But yeah it’s a return to form. Not that the last few books haven’t been complicated, but I feel like this book is a bit more like The Truth About Forever and Just Listen in that it has a wider canvas and moving pieces. So it would be my dream that people would you know, pick up Saint Anything because they’ve heard buzz about it or they are excited about it and they read it and they’re like, “Oh there’s all these other books!,” because I love that.  Like Jodi Picoult, I had read some of her books, then I read Leaving Time, and I loved it and now I’m working my way through her back-list, which I think is the best thing in the world when you discover an author and realize that there are so many other books.

MR: Yeah.  Moving on to Saint Anything, specifically.  Music is very important in the text. It has been a theme in some of your other novels, so is that something that–music is so important to your writing process, creatively? Or is that something that you feel connected to, music?

SD: I think it’s kind of waxed and waned with me. I mean I was very into music when I was younger and now I listen to more– Sasha and I are really into Taylor Swift these days.

MR: Hey, her new album is awesome.

SD: Yeah, yeah I think music can take you to a place. Like I wrote Just Listen which was so much based on music and how music can kind of define a moment more than anything else. and in this book (Saint Anything) I felt that it really showed the difference between the two worlds. Like with Sydney, Layla and the bluegrass. Like, I don’t write southern novels, I think, for the most part, but I do love putting Southern touches in my novels.  Like just putting bluegrass in there. You know, growing up here, it was always on in the background. But you know I do think music is important.  I don’t listen to music when I’m writing, like I can’t have anything–I have to have that silence, you know, unless I’m in a coffee shop and then I tune everything out. But I do have playlists for all of my books–not that I listened to while I was writing–but when I was driving around.

MR: What song would you listen to a lot when you were doing this book?

SD: Well, with this one it was Brave, which is our Sara Bareilles song. Because I had a book I started before this book, which failed, and I set it aside. And I wasn’t sure if another idea was going to bubble up so it was the idea of I just have to sit here and see if another story is going to come to me, and it may not and maybe, you know, I’ve been in this a long time.  It is going to be 20 years in the Fall of 2016 so maybe you know, there are all these young people coming up behind me and maybe I need to like, rest on my laurels for a while, and if another story doesn’t come then you know. It was a really big, scary  moment to set that book aside.  But I’m so glad I did because this book is so much better.

MR: So do you think you’d ever go back to that one, though?

DessenFanGift

Sarah surprising long time fan, Kayla, with a gift

SD: No. And the thing is that, after I finished Saint Anything, I did a big clean out of my closet because my writing is so out of my control that I like to  organize everything, I’m always organizing all of her (Sasha) toys.  But up in my attic I found these thirteen manuscripts, counting the one I had set aside, and I set them out in my driveway and took a picture of them. And they each had a sticky note with the narrator’s name on it, and I was like I’ve published 12 books and I have 13 failed novels. Like, something isn’t working here, this can’t be part of my process.  But it may be that it’s what you need like a palate cleansing in between because in YA you are expected to publish so frequently. And you know if you are in adult contemporary you can take you know 5- 10 years in between books and no one gives you a hard time. But I’m considered slow with every two years. Which is just insane to me!

MR: I think it’s maybe because of the attention span of a lot of YA readers

SD: And because people are used to series and with series there is that pressure.  And I’ve just always been writing at the speed I’m going to write and that is just how it is, but I don’t think I’ll go back to it. I have cherry picked things from previous books, like my book Dreamland, that whole story was out of another book that didn’t work, that was my adult novel that didn’t work. Because I save everything. I don’t really print them all out anymore, but you know I save them to discs, I keep them on file because you never know.  But I purposefully haven’t started anything yet after this book, so right now I don’t really have anything else to bank on, this is all I’ve got.  And if this is the last book that I do for a little while, if this is the one I stick with, then it’s a good one to stick with.  That’s how I feel.

MR: Well, if there is one thing that you want readers to take away from Saint Anything what would it be?

SD: I would think that, you know, the quote at the beginning, “to all the invisible girls, you don’t have to be invisible.” You know, high school is so hard and just because you are invisible to somebody doesn’t mean you’re invisible to everybody. And the key to life is finding the people that see you and I think that’s– whether it be your friends or your family or somebody else or a mentor–but that somebody sees you.

MR: I know we need to wrap up, but I have another personal question–my personal favorite has always been This Lullaby, I’ve worn out like 3 or 4 different copies of it. I actually ordered a hardcover copy of it because I wanted to have a copy signed.

SD: Oh, nice!

MR: But where would you say Remy and Dexter are now?

SD: Oh, in my mind they are still together, of course.  I actually started to write a sequel. It was the only time I’ve thought about a sequel, after I finished Saint Anything, and I thought I’d have a great idea and it was like 3 years after Remy–who was you know going into her senior year in college and was doing really well.  And I had this whole thing, it was all organized, and I had a first chapter. But it was so perfect as it is, well not perfect because no book is, but it was so–I love them. And I think bringing them back in Just Listen was really good, because everything was good.  I just don’t think I’m a sequel person.

MR: Yeah.

SD: and I wrote that book when I was, it came out in 2002, so I was 31. You know? And it was so great and I loved it so much that I’d be afraid if anything I did would, you know.  But I manage to work Truth Squad into everything, and you know “Hate Spinnerbait,” I will always–and when Dexter– when they came in in Just Listen, I just wanted to go out the door with them, because it was just such a hard book to write. In my mind they are still together, in my mind everyone is still together.  I married someone I met in high school, and we are still together so.

MR: Well, thank you so much for talking to me. I was super nervous coming into this because I was like, “I’ve been reading her since I was twelve!”

SD: You don’t need to be nervous for me!

DessenSigningTable

Thanks for coming by!

Thank you so much to Sarah Dessen, Rachel from Penguin Random House, Johanna and the team at Flyleaf books for helping make this event and interview happen!

You can check out my review of Sarah’s novel, Saint Anything, just click on the title.

Be sure to read along with the Penguin SUMMER OF SARAH DESSEN Schedule to see more reviews, exclusive content, and have the chance to win copies of ALL 12 of Sarah Dessen’s novels.

SummerwithSarahDessen

 

I’ll be posting reviews for each week, hope to see you!

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