Synopsis: Sarah Dessen writes books that make wonderful summer reads, and by that, I don’t mean they’re “beach books” or chick lit. Rather, they have a dreamlike and immersive quality, delving deeply into relationships and emotions that might otherwise remain fleeting and obscure. They bring us, the readers, out of ourselves, and into someone else’s life—into some perhaps relatively brief but still critical defining moment. They are in some ways “quiet” stories, but thought about another way, a moment that defines us is never really quiet. It takes up psychic space and causes internal noise.
In Dessen’s latest novel, Once and for All, narrator Louna is in her last summer before starting college, and she’s trying to stay busy enough to keep her internal noise at bay. She works for her mother’s wedding planner business, along with her mother’s best friend William. William serves as a father figure for Louna, since Louna’s own father died when she was too young to remember him. Being exposed to the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes chaos of weddings week after week has given Louna a cynical outlook on love and romance. What’s more, her own first love the preceding fall came to a shocking and devastating end, and she’s not ready to try again.
Still, life sometimes presents us with opportunities when we least expect them—and in ways we might not immediately recognize. When handsome but incredibly cheeky and annoying Ambrose begins working for her mother over the summer, she sees him as a disruption to her routine. But his laid-back, seemingly careless outlook on life is intriguing, and she realizes that taking a few chances might be just what she needs to move on from her past.
Observations: I always end up reading Sarah Dessen books with no small amount of wistfulness. Her characters seem to have a lot more freedom than I had as a teenager, even an older teenager—an adult sort of freedom that allows them to roam with few consequences, to take part in the working world, to have experiences that I didn’t have until I was in college and living on my own.
And yet, what seems like freedom from my perspective is often just a different type of entrapment to her characters. We might envy Louna’s ability to party until all hours with her best friend and date with impunity (and certainly, she seems to be 18 and technically an adult, so it isn’t out of the realm of believability), but at the same time, sometimes freedom just leads to us making our own traps for ourselves. Like Louna, we can voluntarily put on blinders, making it hard to realize that what we think we are searching for is not what we really need.
Conclusion: Fans of Sarah Dessen will eat up this latest novel, and anyone who is a fan of realistic romance fiction and/or family and coming-of-age stories will want to check this one out, too. It would also make a good crossover or new adult book, due to the age of the protagonist.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library’s ebook collection. You can find Once and for All by Sarah Dessen at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!