mini reviews · sarah dessen · summer of sarah

#SummerOfSarah Check In: August

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.

summer of sarah

#SummerOfSarah Check In: July

Today I’m bringing you my (slightly belated, whoops!) July check in for #SummerOfSarah! As you probably remember from my original #SummerOfSarah post, I decided to reread all of Sarah Dessen’s books this summer to celebrate the release of her twelfth novel back in May, Saint Anything. In July, I got to reread my favorite of Sarah’s books, so let’s get to it and I’ll tell you how the month went!

This Lullaby: This Lullaby is hands-down my favorite Dessen novel of the dozen. The dynamic between Remy and Dexter is the stuff of YA perfection, and I still catch myself singing The Potato Opus when I’m distracted. Ever since the first time I read this book (probably a decade ago by now!), I could relate to Remy – cold, calculating, always pushing others away before they could hurt her first. Even now, I still see a bit of Remy in myself. But then along comes Dexter, who is still one of my top book boyfriends, with his band and dog and breaks all of Remy’s carefully crafted rules. My love for This Lullaby is endless. Don’t you give me no rotten tomato, ’cause all I wanted was your sweet potato
The Truth About Forever: I loved this book when I was younger, but I haven’t read it since my father died a couple years ago. I worried that it would make reading this book impossible…Macy is trying to find security in her perfect boyfriend after her father dies. But when Macy starts working with the Wish Catering crew, she understands that there’s more to life (and truly living) than being perfect. Her relationship with Wes and their game of Truth always make me giddy (maple scented pencil!). The low point of this novel for me is Macy’s mom, who succumbs to the unrealistic-crazy-parent trop in YA – and unfortunately, she’s not the only example in Sarah’s writing. But on the whole, The Truth About Forever is really hopeful and uplifting, and I still love it.
Just Listen: This book still affects me every time I read it. Annabel is the youngest of three sisters, and everyone thinks she’s an It girl local model. But after her eldest sister moves to New York and her middle sister develops an eating disorder, Annabel feels like she can’t be honest with her parents about what she wants – and modeling isn’t it. I really enjoy Annabel’s relationship with music-obsessive Owen who always tells the truth, and their music conversations are beyond cute. But for me, this book always comes back to Annabel and her sisters. There’s a scene at the end of the book that gets me every single time, and it of course makes me think of my relationship with my own sister. 
Lock and Key: This was my least favorite of the four books, but I think it’s still a great example of how Sarah Dessen is capable of writing powerful Quiet YA. With similarly dark themes from Dreamland, Lock and Key follows Ruby after her addict mother abandons her and she’s taken in my her estranged sister and her husband. I enjoyed seeing Ruby’s relationship with her sister Cora and her husband Jaime progress, and I wish that would have been the stronger focus instead of Ruby and Nate. While I of course felt empathetic for Nate’s situation, it all got a bit jumbled towards the end with everything going on. But at the same time I felt like Nate’s story was really important…maybe it would have worked better without the romantic connection? 
Those are the four books I read in July for #SummerOfSarah – have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments if you have, and what you thought of them! In the month of August I have the last three in Dessen’s dozen to read: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, and The Moon and More. 
summer of sarah

#SummerOfSarah Check In: June

Sorry this is so belated guys! I’ve been ill and then on vacation, but I’m back on track if slightly belated. As we all know, this year I’m doing the #SummerOfSarah, in which I reread all twelve of Sarah Dessen’s novels during the summer of 2015. In the month of June, I read the first four books, so keep reading to see what I thought of them!

That Summer (Goodreads): Sarah’s first novel was published back in 1996, and rereading it now, you can definitely tell. No cell phones! That Summer is centered around Haven during a summer when her family is in upheaval and she can’t stop growing taller. I adore the focus on family in this book, and that we all remember events and people differently. Plus, this book was made into the movie How to Deal with Mandy Moore, along with…

Someone Like You (Goodreads): This book is a great friendship tale, as it chronicles best friends Halley and Scarlet after Scarlet’s boyfriend dies and she discovers that she’s pregnant with his child. I enjoyed this so much while I was reading, and while it’s not necessarily one of her most well known books, it’s one that feels comforting whenever I return to it.

Keeping the Moon (Goodreads): This has always been a book I want to enjoy more than I actually do. I adore Morgan and Isobel’s friendship, and I try to root for Colie, but it’s too difficult to embrace her character. Obviously a personal opinion, but I just don’t like her as much as Sarah’s other protags. It’s by far the most lackluster “romance” of Dessen’s dozen, although Norman on his own is such a great character.

Dreamland (Goodreads): Inarguably Sarah’s darkest book, Dreamland deals with an abusive relationship, and at times it’s heartbreaking to watch Caitlin suffer through Rogerson and lose herself along the way. This is definitely #QuietYA, and I think it gets overlooked a lot compared to her other books, but it’s so impactful.

I’ll admit that reading chronologically means that I read my least favorite books first. While I don’t dislike any of the four above, I identify more with the books to come (especially in July!). These first four, however, are great examples of what I think Sarah does best – relationships. Friendships, romance, family…Sarah knows how to write an honest dynamic.

Have you been reading along for the #SummerOfSarah? Let me know, as well as if you’re planning to read any of the July books: This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, and Lock & Key!

book review · review · sarah dessen · summer of sarah

Saint Anything and the #SummerOfSarah

Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin

“Sydney has always felt invisible. She’s grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family’s attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton’s serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world.

Then she meets the Chatham family. Drawn into their warm, chaotic circle, Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance for the first time. There’s effervescent Layla, who constantly falls for the wrong guy, Rosie, who’s had her own fall from grace, and Mrs. Chatham, who ever though ailing is the heart of the family. But it’s with older brother Mac – quiet, watchful, and protective – that Sydney finally feels seen, really seen, at last.”

I don’t like contemporary YA. This is a fundamental fact of my personhood that anyone who knows me will tell you. There is, however, one exception: Sarah Dessen. Sarah is, without doubt or question, one of my all-time favorite authors. I have read and own every one of her twelve novels, and cherish them almost as much as my beloved Harry Potter collection. Seriously y’all, my love for Sarah runs deep. So when her twelfth novel, Saint Anything, was published, I cleared my schedule and got comfy.

Saint Anything is touted as Sarah’s deepest novel yet, and it certainly covers some heavy themes – addiction, illness, family discord – from the beginning, this is a departure from Sarah’s usual summer offerings. I was able to really identify with Sydney, as someone who’s also had a family member struggle with addiction and gone to jail because of it. I know what it’s like to feel like your whole life has been reduced to someone else’s mistakes. So I really appreciated the way Sarah deftly portrayed two families: one whose hardships drove them apart, another whose hardships brought them even closer. I loved the Chathams, and Layla often stole the show for me. Be warned that this book comes with major food cravings – pizza and french fries are very much their own characters.

This novel did have a couple shortcomings that felt a bit uncomfortable whilst reading – namely, Sydney’s hyper-controlling parents. There’s a scene when Sydney’s mom reaches across the table and slaps her hands down in front of Sydney…and I genuinely thought she was going to strike her. Her parents were just insane, and it almost made me as uncomfortable as Ames did. Which, bonus points to Sarah for portraying something that gets talked about so little – when an older guy doesn’t actually try anything with you, but just makes you feel unsafe. Sarah wrote an essay about her own experience with a guy like Ames over on Seventeen, and it’s definitely worth a read. I also never felt that connected to the relationship between Sydney and Mac, which definitely wasn’t the purpose of the novel, yet still felt a little lacking. But overall, this was a great addition to the Sarah collection, and probably one I’ll revisit when things with my personal Peyton get me down.

ALSO! Because Saint Anything was released so close to the start of summer – that magical time when all of Sarah’s books take place – I decided that, in celebration of Dessen’s Dozen novels, I’d do a reread. That’s right, I’m kicking off my Summer of Sarah with Saint Anything, and then I’m going to reread all of her books! In chronological order, so that I’ll catch all the little Easter Eggs she’s known for. I’ll be using the hashtag #SummerOfSarah on Twitter and Instagram with update posts here along the way, so please feel free to join! This is a very chill read-along, no hard deadlines. Instead, there will be a few books to read each month throughout the summer. If you want to join in for the whole summer, great! But you can also just read certain titles and participate however you’d like. Here’s the schedule:

MAY: Saint Anything

JUNE: That Summer, Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, Dreamland

JULY: This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Lock and Key

AUGUST: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, The Moon and More

This may be a lot of reading, depending on your reading speed and personal schedules. So don’t worry! Join in however works best for you. If you’ve read any of Sarah’s books, comment down below telling me which is your favorite. Don’t forget to use #SummerOfSarah if you join the read-along!