Once and for All

Is it really better to have loved and lost?

Louna spends her summers helping brides plan their perfect day and handling all kinds of crises: missing brides, scene-stealing bridesmaids and controlling grooms. Not surprising then that she’s deeply cynical about happy-ever-afters, especially since her own first love ended in tragedy.

When handsome girl magnet Ambrose enters her life, Louna won’t take him seriously. But Ambrose hates not getting what he wants and Louna is the girl he’s been waiting for.

Maybe it’s not too late for a happy ending after all?

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

I am a huge Sarah Dessen fan. I must have been around 15 or 16 when I read my first Sarah book (I just turned 25. Whaaat?!), it was Just Listen and I fell hard for it. It’s a book about trauma, speaking up and figuring out how to express your emotions – cause if you don’t, they’ll find their own way out regardless – and I identified incredibly strongly with it for reasons I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint until after graduating school, then university and starting my (semi) adulthood (feeling feelings is not a strong point of mine. I would much rather watch excessively violent shows on Netflix than, say, deal with my daddy issues). All of which is to say I LOVE Sarah, I have read all of her books and will continue to do so for as long as she’s writing them. But, fact is, when an author has written 11-some novels, chances are not all of them are going to be 100% for you. I ADORE Just Listen, Saint Anything, This Lullaby and Keeping the Moon, for example, but I have much more lukewarm feelings toward Lock and Key and Someone Like You.

The drawn out point I am ever-so-slowly getting to is that, while the majority of her books are hits, her latest, Once and for All, was a miss – for me, anyways.

Once and for All is a book about weddings and the notion of ‘forever’ love, an idea all of the characters in this novel are somehow sceptical of. It being a Sarah Dessen novel, romance takes centre stage and by the end, all of the now former sceptics are nicely coupled off and at the beginning of their happily ever afters. While I usually enjoy this kind of thing – I am myself a highly sceptical individual who definitely day dreams of being persuaded of the error of my ways – something about the approach in this one felt a little… off, for reasons I will get more into later.

There were aspects of the book I liked a lot – primarily Ambrose, obviously. The funny, sweet talker with commitment issues is totally my type (I mean who isn’t into that, really?). Every moment between Ambrose and Louna went straight to my squishy heart. They reminded me of Rory and Tristan in Gilmore Girls season 1. Ambrose had the kind of swagger typical of a boy in his mid-twenties rather than his teens and a love of dogs that would have endeared him to me immediately even if the rest of his personality weren’t so appealing.

I really liked Louna’s family – also unsurprising as Dessen writes family with empathy and complexity 100% of the time. Louna was raised by a single mum and major straight male-sceptic in the particular way single mothers tend to be (anyone raised by such a woman will know exactly what I’m talking about), and so even as a teen who had never been in love, Louna was going into the romantic arena with a good deal of (largely unearned) scepticism.

As I was definitely the kid who, at the start of secondary school when my classmates started dating would say things like, “psh, that won’t last” as if I were Joan Collins-type old broad smoking in the corner of the bar, and not actually a 13-year-old who believed Janis Ian style black eyeliner was a strong look and one I would likely wear for the rest of my days – this amused me greatly.

But despite all this, Once and for All left me cold. Generally speaking, I’m a huge fan of a happy ending, but I also believe that what that is looks different for everybody. In Once and for All that looked like being in a relationship – for every single character. And that would be fine, were it not for the fact that at the beginning of the book, Louna’s mother and her business partner William, were both very happy single. They remain happy in that state until the last quarter of the book, when they suddenly meet people (her, some kind of self-help mogul and him, a cute guy from the deli) and realise that they’re supposed single happiness was a farce, and that being one of a romantically entangled pair is really only the way to go.

And… I don’t think that’s true. The idea this book presented, that long term monogamy is *the* route to happiness, made me uncomfortable. And yes, I know this is the premise of most contemporary YA, and yes, I know it ordinarily doesn’t bother me, but to have every major character in the book come to conclusion that single = unhappy… did not resonate with me. At all. This may have been partly owing to the fact the resolution of the book felt quite rushed anyway, but more broadly it’s that, to me at least, the idea that everyone finds happiness in the same way is incredibly reductive. What I would have really liked from this novel is a much more nuanced portrayal of happiness and the pursuit of it, and unfortunately on this occasion I didn’t get that.

Even though this book was not, ultimately, for me, I still can’t wait to read whatever Sarah does next. Though not everything she writes is completely to my taste, I am a fangirl forever, as far as her writing is concerned.

Advertisements

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

vday

Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.

 

 

 

5 Summer Weekend Reads

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

all my friends are superheroes

A cute, optimistic little book about a man called Tom, who is surrounded by superheroes. The evil Hypno has tricked his wife, The Perfectionist into believing that Tom has disappeared. Tom has been trying to convince her that he is not invisible for months, without much success. All My Friends Are Superheroes is a strange, introspective but ultimately optimistic read that’ll leave you with the sense that the world is a little bit brighter.

Keeping the Moon –Sarah Dessen

keeping the moon

Colie has been sent to Colby for the summer. She doesn’t fit in back home – she was bullied first because of her weight, and after she lost that a nasty rumour spread around town and now nobody will talk to her. She doesn’t have much hope of having a fun summer. In this book Sarah Dessen looks at self-worth and how it affects us. She shows us how crippling low self-esteem can be and also how you can have everything that you want despite it.

This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales

this song will save your life

Elise Dembowski has always been unpopular. She has come to expect hurt from others in a way that is self-destructive. She feels alone in the world. Then she discovers in one serendipitous night that she can DJ. And if she can do that then she can become a different person altogether. This an interesting read about the life changing consequences of finding your passion.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

the lover's dictionary

David Levithan tells the story of a relationship from start to finish in 185 dictionary definitions.

Gravity, n.

I imagine you saved my life. And then I wonder if I’m just imagining it.”

Voluminous, adj.

I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.”

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

anna and the french kiss

Anna is pissed. She had a job she loved, a boy she really liked and a great summer lined up with her best friend. Then her dad ruined it all by deciding to send her to boarding school in Paris. This is a great book about falling in love, new friends and new challenges. And it all happens amongst the beautiful winding streets of Paris. It is a complete escape.

Saint Anything

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

saint anything

Saint Anything is about a girl called Sydney, who always wanted to be noticed until she was. Her whole life she’s felt like she’s living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. He is the charismatic star of the family. Until he winds up in prison, that is, and everything around Sydney starts to go to hell. Suddenly people are paying attention to her, but not in a way that she would have ever wanted.

Sydney decides to move schools to get away from it all. She soon meets the Chatham family. They notice her in a way Sydney has never felt before – the noticing is an offer of friendship rather than a judgement. It’s an offer that changes her whole life.

Disappearing into Sarah Dessen’s writing is one of my greatest pleasures. Every time she brings out a new book, when I hold it in my hands for the first time, I take a moment to worry that my experience this time will be different, that the complete immersion I experience when reading these books will somehow be gone. I worry that getting older means that I might lose it.

It never does. From the moment I started reading this book, I completely lost my desire to do anything else.

Being noticed and the act of noticing are central to Saint Anything. Sydney’s parents fail to notice the affects her brother’s incarceration have on her. They fail to notice that she is being harassed by her brother’s creepy friend. They fail to notice that she’s a good kid. Sydney lives under the weight of her brother’s actions. Her parents are so preoccupied with his behaviour that Sydney finds herself being punished for actions she hasn’t even taken. Owing to Peyton’s lifestyle and its consequences, Sydney’s own freedom is limited.

Then there is her friendship with the Chathams. The whole family seem to notice that Sydney is in pain. They draw her in to them and out of herself. Sydney’s family are a great deal richer than the Chathams, and the way that Sarah Dessen shows this, by Sydney noting small things about their home – she’s a total master of show don’t tell – was wonderful. The Chatham’s financial existence was simply different, rather than problematic.

Love it.

Another thing I love so much about Sarah Dessen’s books is how well rounded all of the characters are. Layla Chatham doesn’t come into Sydney’s life as just a solver of problems, a spirit guide or romantic comedy best friend with no personal life of her own. This girl is difficult. She’s welcoming, funny and confident – the kind of best friend that we all want. But she’s also liable to disappear into relationships and hold her friends to high standards that are hard to reach. I think that the key to Dessen’s writing and what makes the reading of it such an immersive experience is this character depth. By the end of each novel, I could easily care enough to read a spin off about each separate character. Sarah herself nods to this by the referencing to her previous work in all of her novels. When Sydney first meets Mac Chatham he is wearing an Anger Management radio show shirt.

This depth of character leads to constant surprises – for us and Sydney. In all her writing and in this book particularly, Dessen shows relationships as constantly evolving, the process of getting to know someone never truly complete.

Her books are a study on imagining people complexly.