Most readers and bloggers can agree that Sarah Dessen is the Queen of Contemporary. Her books have been around long before YA was a well-known genre and I remember her books being some of the first I ventured into in middle and high school summers when the YA section at my local library was lacking and I didn’t even really know what a contemporary novel was. Over the past 12+ years I’ve read and loved almost all of her books, and with Once and for All out this Sarah has surely been on everyone’s mind! Lauren from Bookmark Lit and I are therefore joining forces this summer to discuss all things Dessen this month- when we started reading her books, our experiences with rereading, and other fun discussions, recommendations, and personal stories. Our feature will take place over 4 weeks this June on Wednesdays at Lauren’s blog and on Thursdays here!
Introduction, Our Sarah Stories, and Discussion of Someone Like You
June 7th on Bookmark Lit – June 8th on Girl in the Pages
Dessen Recommendations and Similar Stories
June 14th on Bookmark Lit – June 15th on Girl in the Pages
Blog Features: Cover Colors and I Will Go Down with My Ship
June 21st on Bookmark Lit – June 22nd on Girl in the Pages
Once and For All, Dessen Favorites, and Wrap-Up
June 28th on Bookmark Lit – June 29th on Girl in the Pages
As I mentioned in my intro paragraph, I’ve been reading Sarah’s books for over a decade. My earliest memories of Sarah’s books are long, lazy summer days before I could drive or really go out of the house without a chaperone. Because of this I was usually not a fan of summer vacation when I was younger, as I spent a lot of time trapped in the house. However, my awesome Aunt would often take me out and one of the stops we frequently hit was our local public library. I would peruse the (rather slim at the time) YA section and itch to find some engaging reading material (I was always reading way above my age/grade level and after leaving the children’s section there wasn’t a whole lot at the time unless you went straight into adult fiction). I remember stumbling upon Sarah’s books one summer many years ago, with their original covers, and reading That Summer and Someone Like You and being intrigued that there were narratives surrounding normal teenage girls close in age to myself. However, the book that really, really struck a chord with me was Dreamland– there was such a depth and darkness to it despite it being a contemporary “teen” novel and it forever solidified Sarah as one of the best YA authors to me.
Over the past two years I’ve been slowly making my way through rereading Dessen’s books, and I’ve loved being able to experience them as an adult and pick up on all of the themes and nuances that I missed before (to be honest, I don’t remember much since it’s been SO LONG since I initially read them). I’ve loved each and every one of them for their own reasons, but out of all of my rereads so far my favorite has been Along for the Ride. Lauren and I both need to reread two of her most popular books, The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby, however I’ve found Dreamland and Just Listen to be profoundly moving for me as well. I’ll round out my reread with Keeping the Moon and pick up The Moon and More for the first time (the only back list title of hers I haven’t read yet) and then I cannot wait to dive into Once and for All!
Throughout my rereading of Sarah’s novels, one that that has struck me is how dark her novels are. While some are arguably more so than others, each one carries its own depth and usually contains a lot of subtle emotional arcs and intense relationships. While on the one had I think of her books as quintessential contemporary books, on the other hand they’re anything but fluffy, and I honestly think she’s the only author who’s managed to strike that balance between familiarity, accessibility, contemporary and darkness.
Though I already reviewed Someone Like You earlier this week, Lauren and I both recently read it and have some discussion questions to share!
What are some of the differences you noticed in Dessen’s earlier writing compared to her more recent works?
I feel liker her first few books were actually REALLY intense. Someone Like You deals with teenage pregnancy, Dreamland deals with domestic abuse, and these are MAJOR plot points and the protagonists often go through some pretty physically and mentally intense experiences. I feel like her more recent books while still amazing, have less of a raw quality, and the protagonists seem a little younger, and they feature the romance as a more positive aspect rather than as a catalyst for dramatic change. Needless to say I still love her books! It’s funny because I always think her books are the perfect summery reads and quite a few of them DON’T take place over summer and carry quiet a bit of emotional weight which I’m reminded of when I reread her back list.
Which best friend did you identify with/like more: Halley or Scarlett?
I really, really liked Scarlett. While I definitely cannot relate to the situation she is in, I can relate to her sense of responsibility and ability to forge her own path. She handles her situation with such grace and maturity and it’s nice to see a teenager dealing with pregnancy who isn’t irresponsible/irrational/a hot mess, etc. Scarlett is also not ashamed of her predicament or decision to keep the baby which is really refreshing, even in the face of many, many people telling her it will ruin her life. Scarlett’s really indicative of Sarah Dessen’s ability to tackles stereotypical teen tropes in an extremely un-stereotypical way.
Someone Like You focuses heavily on relationships, especially flawed ones. Which relationship (aside from Scarlett and Halley’s) did you find most compelling in the book?
I was really intrigued by the relationships Scarlett had in the book and how they were or were not affected by her pregnancy. Scarlett was raised by a young single mother, yet her mother freaks out and not supportive when Scarlett finds herself in the same situation. It’s always mentioned that Scarlett plays the role of the adult in the household, but I would have been interested to know more about how their relationship got to that place and how Miriam found herself raising a daughter on her own (especially a very strong, smart, and resilient one).
Though the book also focused a lot on Halley’s relationship with her mom, I wish we had learned more about her relationship with her dad. Her dad’s voice was like a constant narrator in the background, as he’s a local radio show host and she constantly overhears his voice around town- in stores, coming out of cars that drive past her, etc. I feel like that would be such a weird and unique phenomenon, for your parent to be ever-present in your town but almost never physically there all at the same time (Halley’s dad spend much of the book away at radio events). I think it was such a cool story telling dynamic that Sarah integrated and I would’ve loved to learn more about it!