So, I wanted to read more of Sarah Dessen's books, but I didn't want to go out and buy them for full price. I usually get most of my books at the used bookstore or on half.com, but shopping for specific books at the used bookstore never works out so well, and, in this case, I was way too impatient to wait for half.com. So...I broke down and got a library card. Then I ran upstairs to the YA section and grabbed three more of her books.
I ended up devouring these three books. I read two of them and started the third in one day, then I finished the third one the following evening.
That Summer was actually Dessen's first published novel. This is apparent when you compare the writing with the writing in This Lullaby or Just Listen, but it was still a great book. I really related with the main character Haven because she was going through her teen years as a nearly six foot tall girl, much like I did. (She also worked at the mall, much like I did for eight long years of my life. Haven and I had a lot in common.) That Summer is a "sister of the bride" story. Haven's sister getting married in the same summer as her father is getting re-married (to the woman he cheated on her mom with), so it's a traumatic summer for her. She copes by spending her time fixating on a summer from her past when her sister's ex-boyfriend, Sumner, shows back up in town.
I think we can all relate to romanticizing a time in the past when we thought things were perfect and fixating on it, and that's what Haven does in this book. The ending is very poignant, and it is a cute growing up story.
Keeping The Moon is another one of Dessen's earlier books, and is another coming of age story. I liked this one better than That Summer, mainly just because the writing was tighter and there was a little more romance (I am realizing I am a sucker for the teen romance. How sad). In this one there is the adorably dorky Norman, a talented artist, as the boy interest. (I don't know what it is about Sarah Dessen...she obviously loves the dorky boys as much as I do. It's so refreshing to see dorks getting some love. I think that's why I like her books so much.) Romance isn't the focus of this book, though, it's Colie and the journey of self-acceptance she goes through as she spends a summer at the beach with her aunt. She learns about friendship, beauty, and loving herself through her aunt, the two twenty-something girls next door, Isabel and Morgan, and the cutie-pie Norman who rents a room at her aunt's house. It all sounds very trite, but it's not, I promise. Dessen really has mastered telling these stories and teaching these lessons without sounding cliche.
The last one I read from the library was Dreamland. I don't want to say that Dessen's novels are formulaic, because they are not, but the ones I have read have followed a somewhat similar pattern of girl discovers herself and deals with family issues thanks to some dorky boy who helps her figure it all out. Dreamland is different. Yes, Caitlin has personal issues as well as major family issues that she needs to solve. However, in this book it isn't the boy who helps her solve them. In this book, the boy makes them worse.
I should have known something was different about this book when I didn't like Rogerson. I have loved all of her other guy characters, but I didn't like this one. Well, there's a good reason, because the relationship between Caitlin and Rogerson soon turns to abuse, so not only is Caitlin dealing with her mother's depression and the breakdown of her family after her sister runs away, but now she is trying to keep her absue at the hands of her mysterious boyfriend a secret from everyone. It's so fascinating the way Caitlin's life slowly breaks down and she beigins to lose every single piece of herself to this guy who hurts her over and over again.
This book is a lot heavier than the others. Obviously, the subject of abuse is a serious one. Plus, there is a lot of drinking and teenage drug use, as well as language. Rogerson is a drug dealer, and by the end of the book Caitlin is stoned pretty much the entire time. It's still one I would love to have my students read, though...hopefully to let the girls look at an abusive relationship from the outside and see what it looks like so they know what to avoid.
So, after reading five of her novels, I still have a major crush on Sarah Dessen. This Lullaby remains my favorite, but I still have a few more to read! I need to get my hands on Someone Like You, The Truth About Forever, and her newset book Lock and Key. Someone Like You is one of her older ones, but the other two are more recent and I have heard nothing but good things about them!
Looking at all of these books and reading reviews, it seems like people tend to agree that Dessen has a lock on writing characters that feel real. Like them or hate them (it seems like her girls irritate a lot of readers, but I think it may be because they relate to them more than they want to admit), they are so fleshed out that they feel like they could hop off of the page and have a cup of coffee with you (or smoke a bowl with you, in the case of Caitlin from Dreamland). The same with her secondary characters. Even though they are just there, in many cases, to move the plot along in some way or another, she never makes them flat. They are always just as interesting and complex as the main characters themselves.
Looks like I'll be stalking the YA section of the library until these come in. But, I guess by the time that happens I could have ordered them from half.com, right? Oh well...as long as I get to read them.