Saturday, December 6, 2008

High School Reunion

So, as a high school teacher I have become pretty interested in Young Adult (YA) lit lately. I started reading it when I said, "I want to know what my students are reading so I can talk to them about it," but then, after a book or two, I found myself hooked on the genre. It wasn't just about reading what they read, it was about getting into their heads and living their lives for a little bit, albeit vicariously.

And, I'm not going to lie, I have always had a thing about high school. I guess that's why I ended up as a teacher...I guess I could never really move on.

On Thursday I randomly picked up a book called This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. I didn't even realize it was YA when I bought it at the thrift store a few weeks ago, I figured it was chick lit (which I am not a big fan of, to tell you the truth), and threw it in my TBR pile, figuring it would be a good book for a day I was looking for a quick read, and then I would donate it to my classroom library for my students. Well, Thursday was the day I was looking for that quick read, so this book got tossed into my purse and I dove into it on my lunch break.

I was interested as soon as I started reading because the main character, Remy, was not like the typical female main character in a YA novel. She wasn't a cheerleader, but she also wasn't the shy nerd. She drank, she partied, she slept around, she was a total bitch, but, somehow she was not "the bitch." She was still a likable character. I loved following her as she was revealed to me, all of these interesting facets of her personality unfolding in layers. I found myself really liking Remy, wishing she was actually sitting across from me at lunch, and not stuck on the page.

Then there was the guy. Dexter. Oh holy lord, it was like Sarah Dessen could see into my soul and created the exact guy I would fall head-over-heels in love with. Tall. Gangly. Dorky as hell. Singer in a band. Somewhat awkward. Sex hair. OMG. I. Love. Dexter. (It should come as no surprise to most everyone reading this blog that I crush on fictional characters and I crush hard. It's not just fictional characters, though. I crush on anything and anyone appealing that crosses my path. It's a sickness, really.) Dexter was after Remy. Remy was hesitant. Jessica shouted at the book, "Good LORD, Remy! Hit that and hit it NOW or I will find a way to do it for you!"

The book wasn't just about them, though. There was so much more. Remy's family issues. Her personal issues. The things she had to get over internally. The things she had to figure out about her mom and her brother. I loved getting into her head and seeing all of this through her eyes.

I devoured this book and was really impressed. It wasn't at all what I expected from a YA novel. The characters are very well developed and actually three dimensional, which I don't often see in this genre. Plus I realized the typical YA cliches weren't there, which was a refreshing surprise. The only cliche element, to me, anyway, was the I-hate-you-no-wait-I-love-you nature of Remy and Dexter's relationship, but even that was done in a way that didn't make it seem tired and worn out.

But what really impressed me was Dessen's writing. Accessible for teenagers, but polished and solid. I enjoyed it so much. And, as someone who just spent November attempting to write a YA novel, it was very inspiring. As I was reading This Lullaby I was thinking," This is EXACTLY the book I was trying to write. The characters. The story. The development. This is what I wanted to do." So, I was jealous. So jealous. Jealous, but inspired. I want to be Sarah Dessen.

However, I figured I should read more of her books before I jump to this wild conclusion, so I grabbed Just Listen from the shelf of my classroom library and brought it home for the weekend. I read the whole thing today.

It took me a little longer to get into Just Listen, but I still enjoyed it and I was still impressed with Dessen's characters, story, and writing.

I was coming off of my Dexter high and Owen, while cool and an interesting character, just didn't do it for me the way Dexter did. (However, in a very fun surprise, Dexter some of the characters from This Lulaby actually make a cameo appearance in this book! I was so excited, it was like running into an old friend at the mall. Well, maybe not, because when I see people at the mall, even old friends, I end up hiding behind the sale rack until they are gone. I passionately hate small talk. So, bad comparison, I guess.) Plus, the focus of this book is less on the relationship and more on Annabel as a person and her relationship with her family, so that romance piece was a little bit missing for me. It was still a great book, though, and one that I would totally recommend. The dynamic between Annabel and her sisters Whitney and Kirsten is such a fascinating one and even though I thought I wouldn't be able to relate because I don't have sisters myself, I found myself shedding several tears over the relationship between these three.

I'm sitting on my couch now, eyeballing my bookshelf just FULL of books I haven't yet read, but all I want to do is read another one of Dessen's books. And, honestly, if I had it with me, I wouldn't even mind reading This Lullaby again. I suppose I can wait until tomorrow to scour the local thrift stores looking for another book of hers (she has about four or five other ones, all of them look interesting), but for now I figure blogging about the two I've read will be good enough to distract me, and then thinking about how I can get my NaNo story from where it is (vapid pile of crap) to where I want it to be (This Lullaby status) will push me on once I have read everything of hers that I can, which I will inevitably do in a very short time.

My YA obsession lives on. But I had a long conversation about This Lullaby with my 2nd period class on Friday morning, so I guess it really is a good thing.



Kayla said...

Ok these sound awesome. I love me some good YA books.
And Jessica please write more reviews! I love the way you write :)

kenpen said...

I just ordered this on PBS! I liked the movie How to Deal (haven't read the book) so I expect to enjoy this too! I didn't realize the connection til I went to order it on PBS.

Kellie said...

I love your reviews and actually very excited to read these now.

Maci said...

Your review is great! Makes me want to read the book now!


Jenna said...

Thanks for the reviews. I just figured out that I have every one of her books in a pile at home that a friend let for me!