Once and For All

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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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Saint Anything

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By now, I’ve read almost all of Sarah Dessen’s books. A popular author in the young adult world, her novels contain similar formulas; dealing with family, divorce, romance, loss and identity. 

Earlier this year, I borrowed The Moon and More from the library and started reading it. However, I couldn’t help but feel the predictability of the story just a few chapters in, and eventually stopped reading it. Then, a few days ago, I was looking for kindle books to borrow from the D.C. library, and came across Saint Anything. Although unsure if I would like it or not, I decided to borrow it and give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Saint Anything is about Sydney Stanford, a seventeen-year-old girl whose family life has been jarred by the arrest of her older brother, Peyton. After Peyton is sentenced to spend a year and a half at a correctional facility, Sydney seeks a fresh start by going to a public school. It is here she meets and befriends Layla and Mac Chatham, brother and sister whose family life intrigues her. She finds herself becoming close with the rest of the Chatham family as a way to escape the tension of her home life.

What I like most about the story is that it centers on family and friendships, a nice departure from the divorce and romantic themes of Dessen’s other novels. Sydney’s family has tension due to her mother’s fixation on interacting with Peyton as much as possible without realizing the effect it has on Peyton himself and other members of the family. Sydney finds solace in her friendships with Layla, and her friends and family. These themes are very realistic and present in almost everybody’s lives.

There were certain parts of the novel that I felt weren’t necessary. There is a chapter documenting the experience Sydney has at her friend Jenn’s house. It could be to show the difference in experiences Sydney has with her old friends versus her new friends, but it still felt like filler.

This book is definitely worth a read, as it distinguishes itself from her other novels with themes of incarcerated love ones and the effect it can have on families.