Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sarah Dessen

Over the past few weeks I've discovered the captivating voice of Sarah Dessen. 

I've read three of her books so far and have one more currently sitting on my shelf calling to me ever so sweetly, yet persistently.

I started with This Lullaby, a book I'd heard such great things about but sadly didn't love as much as some other reviewers. It was a mix of the characters, the quick coming together of hero and heroine as well as a few plot choices that didn't really sit right with me. 

Even though I may not have loved the book, I could tell from the writing and the smooth shift from scene to scene that Dessen had real talent. 
I moved on to Lock and Key as my next choice in Dessen's list of work and was sooo glad I chose to stick with her. This book was so captivating, from the first page I was hooked and read novel from cover to cover in 24 hours. Dessen has such a talent for giving her characters such honest and enthralling personalities and she doesn't shy away from the touch subjects - namely, abuse, alcoholism. drug use, rape and the like. These are real stories with real characters who have real everyday issue which affect teens and adults alike. Dessen has a knack for bringing her Lakeview world to life - the small town, based on her own hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The stories, although not connected in any serial sense have subtle, almost inperceptible connections. You have to have read most of her later works - This Lullaby on - to remark on the links. 
I recently turned the last page of Just Listen, another remarkable and heartfelt read. I loved the characters in this particular novel and out of all three leading men, Owen Armstrong is my personal fav!

Now on to the Reviews:

This Lullaby 
3.5 Stars

I enjoyed this book...for the most part.
There is no doubt that Sarah Dessen is a talented writer. She creates memorable, realistic and charming characters you could definitely imagine as a good friend or at the very least someone you might know.

This Lullaby was the first book I've read of Dessen's and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the book and its premise is geared towards older readers. There is mention of drug use, occasional drinking scenes and the main character Remy says that she used to be 'easy' and references having a reputation for sleeping around. I was a bit weary of her as a character at first because she seemed cold and cynical. Remy is a control-freak, but she knows and acknowledges it, she's a neat freak, doesn't believe in love and would rather go from boyfriend to boyfriend, living out her 6 week relationships. Disillusioned in love and lust, Remy has her dating rituals down to a fine art. Then in walks Dexter, clumsy, disorganized,and everything Remy never thought she'd want in a boyfriend. What follows is a nice story of Remy's transition from a girl who thought love made you weak into a woman who knows it's okay, once in a while, to let someone in.

Although this book was reviewed by some as a really sweet love story, I never saw it that way. Yes, Dexter and Remy have some sweet moments, yes they are a cute couple, but the book is largely about Remy and her feelings of discomfort where love is concerned. This outlook is largely due to her mother, who at the beginning of the novel is getting ready for marriage number 4 and her father - whom she never knew. Her perception is in large part a consequence of her mother's irresponsible behaviour and blindness - maybe I'm being harsh, but I was annoyed with the fact that Remy had to pick up all the pieces after her mother's relationships fell apart. She was the one who kept everything together and got no thanks in return.

Dessen does a great job of creating and portraying Remy's character in a realistic and heartfelt way. I was captivated not so much by her relationship with Dexter, but with her relationship with herself and her friends - Lissa, Jessa and Chloe who are each very good friends and gave a lot of comic relief to the book.

Overall, what was missing for me was the meat of her relationship with Dexter. It wasn't portrayed as well as I thought it could have been and I wanted more depth and insight into their relationship. By the time I got to page 200 or so, I could see where it was all heading and how the conflict would be resolved. I don't always mind this in a book, but I got kind of bored by the end and just wanted it to be done.

I might pick up another of Dessen's books in the future, but probably not immediately.
*** This turned out to be a BIG lie! 2 weeks later I had Lock and Key in hand...

Lock and Key
5 stars
Wow. So I read this book in about a day. Couldn't stop flipping the pages.

Sarah Dessen has such incredible insight into the mind of a teenage girl. She writes with wit, sincerity and emotion and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ruby's sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story.

Ultimately this books is about family. The family you make, the family you're born with and the family that just is - despite everything. Ruby's journey to understanding her own family and what it really means to have one is the main focus of the book. It doesn't beat you over the head with the theme, Sarah Dessen weaves the focus subtly into the background of events in the story so it's like a slow progression to understanding for readers, just as it is for Ruby.

There are so many things I loved about this book that it's hard to even name them all, but first I'll talk about the protagonist and narrator of the story - Ruby.

This girl has strength. That's the first thing that jumped out at me. She's had a pretty rough upbringing with a volatile mother who it turns out fed her many lies which cost Ruby dearly over the years. Now, just months before her eighteenth birthday - the day Ruby acknowledges as her chance to escape and live on her own terms - her mother up and disappears without a word, leaving Ruby to fend for herself for weeks before her situation is discovered and she's taken to live with her older sister Cora. Cora and Ruby have a shaky beginning. They haven't spoken to or seen one another in 10 years and this in itself makes for some awkward conversations. Ruby though is such a good character. At once tough, but vulnerable, resistant to affection, love or any kind of relationship that would make her dependent on another person, but also yearning for that human connection. I really loved reading about Ruby's path to acceptance of herself and her life as well as reconcile her relationships with her mother, sister and friends she makes - without meaning or wanting to - along the way.

Nate is another character I loved. He's sweet, a genuinely nice guy and tries from the get go to support Ruby in any way he can. Their friendship was one of the best things about this book. Slow to build but so satisfying to see them both come to terms with one another, their own fears and the ways they need could support each other. For all Nate's seeming stability, there is one part of himself he hides fiercely from others and like Ruby's reluctance to let anybody in, Nate would rather protect that one part, denying it's existence while still trying to maintain friendships and relationships. It's amazing how well Dessen formed these characters. At once so similar yet so well balanced, Nate and Ruby were perfect in more ways than one for each other.

This about sums up my love for Nate:
"Hey and for what it's worth? Friends don't leave you alone in the woods. Friends are the ones who come and take you out."

The cast of supporting characters in the book was so well done. Starting with Jamie, Ruby's brother-in-law, who accepts and protects Ruby with no questions asked. He really is such a sweet and loving man. And his obsession with ponds provides some hilarious comedy in the book. Cora was also a pleasure to read about, at first seemingly cold and aloof, she turned out to be so sweet and motherly. And it was great how Dessen revealed the truth behind Cora's absence from Ruby's life so subtly along with the elements of Cora's character she brought out in various ways - all a surprise to Ruby, who has never known her sister grown up.

Dessen's books are written and geared towards an older teenage audience and I really loved how she didn't shy away from the tough stuff. Drugs, sex, abuse, alcoholism - they are all tough subjects to tackle with heart and realism and yet Dessen brought them all together in this story in a fully functional and believable way. These elements are all so important to the way the story is structured and told and I think it's the mark of a great writer who can put so much heart behind the tough things.

Overall, such a great and engaging read. After reading - but not loving - "This Lullaby", by Sarah Dessen I wasn't sure I'd love this one as much as I did. But I'm glad I tried her writing again because although "This Lullaby" wasn't a story I loved, the writing was great and "Lock and Key" completely captured by attention.

Just Listen
5 Stars

Another great book by Sarah Dessen.

This author continually ropes me in with her insight into the stresses, fears, traumas and hopes of teenage girls. This story was a tough one for me to read at times if only for the sense of seething injustice I felt for Annabel and all she was going through alone with the revelation of her much guarded secret.

I loved the relationship between Owen and Annabel. I really liked Nate from Dessen's book "Lock and Key" but at this point I have to say, no one beats Owen Armstrong. Funny, gentle, passionate, strong and supportive, Owen is pretty close to the perfect guy even with this flaws! I loved the way Owen and Annabel's relationship flourished. One things I continue to appreciate in Dessen's books is the way she constructs relationships built on great friendships. The romance is always slow to build, but what always makes it perfect in the end is the very really friendship full of depth and emotion that the two main characters bring to the story. Annabel and Owen were great accompaniments for one another as they each supported and leaned on one another is different ways. I really enjoyed Owen's penchant for honesty at all costs. Owen, who has had issue with Anger Management as has since gone to classes to resolve the way he expresses his anger has a strict honestly policy. In his own words "I might be saying you're fat, but at least I'm not punching you in the face." Annabel, a sweet-tempered, pleaser type harbours a horrible secret that has traumatized her into silence in order to protect herself. She believes that it is better sometimes, to keep silent rather than say the things that would potentially hurt someone else. Through her friendship with Owen, though she comes to realize that secrets can weigh you down in very destructive ways, and that sometimes no matter what you're saying, keeping silent can hurt more than speaking out.

I admired Annabel as much as I was sometimes (not very often, though) was annoyed with her. I wanted so badly for her to be able to reveal the pain she was keeping inside, to reach out to someone with such an important matter, but I could also understand her fear and rational for staying quiet. In the end though, everything came together and Annabel found her voice.

As always, Dessen groups together a great supporting cast. From Annabel's parents, not large characters, but still fun to read, to her two distinctly different sisters Kirsten and Whitney, each on their own soul-searching journeys to Owen's little sister Mallory - a fashion obsessed, Annabel-obsessed, precocious young girl. Her exuberance and zeal really reminded me of my little cousin which only made Mallory's scenes that much more enjoyable.

Name by the Goo Goo Dolls seems to be like the perfect theme song for this book.

A great read with many thought provoking scenes and insights. 5
5 stars hands-down. 

Bottom line - these are great reads for teenage girls. There are so many moments I loved and Dessen has a real way with words. One sentence can sum up an entire feeling that you didn't even know you were having until you read the words scrawled on the page. I honestly learned things from reading these stories. The characters, plot and emotions stay with you long after the final word has been read and the cover has been closed. 

1 comment:

  1. "Just Listen" is a young adult novel by Sarah Dessen, a best selling author. It introduces us into the story with a commercial for a local department store, starring the protagonist, a young model named Annabel Greene. She is a17-year-old girl who has to cope with her older sister's eating disorder and a new school year without any friends ever since a shocking event happened during the summer. However, when she meets Owen Armstrong, her total opposite, Annabel Greene begins to change.