About two months ago, I heard that Sarah Dessen was coming to a bookstore near my city to do a reading and signing for her latest novel, Once and For All. Since I had never been to a signing, I decided to go and check it out. Of course, driving to the suburbs of the nation’s capital at rush hour is not easy, and I didn’t arrive until after she had finished the reading. Fortunately, I still got a chance to meet Sarah (me being the very last person in line) and get my book signed by her. It was a cool experience.

For me, reading a wedding-themed novel couldn’t have come at a better time. My older brother got married about three months ago, and I got a small glimpse as to what he and his wife did to plan for the big day. I wasn’t too involved with the process myself, but I found myself fascinated with all the work of 14 months that culminated in just one entire day, or really just a few hours. Anyway, on with the book review.

Louna is the teenage daughter of a wedding planner in South Carolina. Being in the business of happily-ever-afters, she’s seen it all- reluctant brides, stressed out wedding parties and uninvited guests. However, Louna herself doesn’t believe in love, partly due to her own first love ending in tragedy, something that soured her perspective. During one of her wedding events, she meets Ambrose, a charismatic guy who isn’t committed to long-term relationships. When he comes to work for them for the summer, Louna finds herself struggling to maintain her perspective of love while dealing with Ambrose’s contrasting views.

I liked the wedding element of the novel. Dessen portrays how many details go into the planning of the big day, not just the guest list and the wedding party, but everything from from the caterer and the decorations to making sure everyone is present for ceremony and the timing. There’s also details about how ceremonies can range from a courthouse wedding to a huge 300-person gathering.

That being said, I didn’t find the actual plot of Louna and Ambrose’s relationship to be that appealing. After reading Dessen’s 2015 novel Saint Anything, which centered more around family love and inclusion than romantic relationships, I guess I expected her next book to have as much depth as that one did. But truthfully, I found that this novel lacked substance and felt more like recycled material from her previous books. Dessen is still a great writer, but I wish Once and For All had been a more complex and layered story.

 

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