The Summer of Sarah has come to an end. Back in May, I decided to reread all twelve of Sarah Dessen’s novels this summer, to relieve the summer stories of my teen years and revisit that magical always-summer town, Colby. August was the final month in the #SummerOfSarah, so now I have the last three books to discuss.
Along for the Ride: There are several layers to this story, and I appreciated the depth in Along for the Ride that we don’t get in all of Sarah’s novels. Auden doesn’t sleep – hasn’t since before her parents divorced – and when she decides to spend the summer before college with her dad, his new wife, and their new born daughter, Auden meets fellow insomniac Eli. Along for the Ride has some of my favorite Dessen themes: female friendship, great tension between the MC and love interest, and a realistic protag. I remember relating to Auden when I was younger, because I was an insomniac and did everything I could to avoid sleeping. I loved, and still do, the idea of going on a mini-adventure every night while everyone else is sleeping. Like most of Sarah’s books, the family dynamic is tense in this one, but Auden’s parents felt so…self-absorbed and pretentious, it infuriated me to read. Ultimately this was a middle of the road Dessen novel for me: not the best, not the worst, but overall somewhat forgettable when lumped in with the rest.
What Happened to Goodbye: After her mother’s public affair and her parents’ subsequent divorce, McLean and her dad have moved – a lot. Every town is an opportunity to become a new version of herself: Eliza, Lizbet, each with different interests and personalities. When McLean and her dad move to Lakeview, she meets brilliant but accidental delinquent Dave and makes friends, while still trying to deal with her incessant mother’s attempts at reconnecting. If Along for the Ride didn’t signal a bit of a decline for Sarah, this book did it. While it’s an unique enough concept, in execution this book falls flat and forced. I found this book to be rambling without much of a focus, and it never feels as if the story has a clear direction or motivation. The “climax” didn’t make sense, and while I enjoyed the characters enough, What Happened to Goodbye was just okay upon a reread.
The Moon and More: Emaline has always lived in Colby, the beach town where most people just breeze in and out for the summer. But she plans to leave Colby for college with her boyfriend at the end of this summer, and nothing will stop her. Until, of course, her biological father shows up, a cute filmmaker arrives in town, and her boyfriend cheats on her – that’s when things fall apart. I’m just going to come out and say it: this is my least favorite of Sarah’s novels, by far. This is a rather long book in which nothing happens. It feels even longer when you don’t particularly like any of the characters, and don’t really care what happens to them. This is the only one of Dessen’s dozen that I don’t own, and never intend to read again. The Moon and More is different from her other novels in that it doesn’t follow the same formula, but straying from that formula clearly fails Sarah. It’s unfortunate, but true. I struggled through this book because I didn’t feel connected to the story, and Emaline might be my least favorite Dessen MC to date. This is one I’d say you’re safe to skip.
I hate to end #SummerOfSarah on a negative note, so I want to reiterate how much I adored Sarah Dessen’s books when I was a teenager (and I still do!). Sarah is capable of truly representing the teenage experience – from the intense loyalty of friendships to underage partying to the unbearable pain of heartbreak. In that perfect always-summer world of Colby and Lakeview, Sarah’s novels provide readers with relatable characters who struggle with the same insecurities and families, and who need a story in which everything turns out alight in the end. I imagine I’ll keep reading Sarah’s books as long as she publishes them, or until that fearful day when I’m too old to enjoy contemporary YA at all. If you need a lighthearted read, or a reminder of that one summer, then a Sarah Dessen novel will do the trick.