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- Why I read it: Sarah Dessen, divorce, crushing boredom
- Disclosure: Borrowed a final published, legally purchased from my Dessen addict sister
For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She's nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister,the always perfect Ashley,is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley's reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.I'm not sure how you can claim to read YA and not know about Sarah Dessen, whether you like her or not. Meg Cabot may dominate snarky, whiny, stretches-the-limits-of-the-imagination, hilarious chick lit, but Sarah Dessen is queen of more serious "girl books," ones that address topics like eating disorders and drinking and the consequences of premarital sex. I know that sounded a little disparaging, and it's not. This Lullaby is the only YA romance that never, ever made me think yeah right, and while nothing's quite come close to that since, I've enjoyed every book of hers that I've read. She is exceptionally good at what she does. Going back to this, her first book, felt like something of a low blow. It exposed an author in the early stages instead of the established, bestselling author she is now; it exposed the early inspirations for formulas and variables she repeats over and over. That made it hard to swallow at times. That said, it's still head and shoulders above much of the rest of the contemporary YA crowd, and well worth a revisit.
One scene that especially repeats over and over is The Divorce in its various stages, especially The Dreaded Remarriage. In This Lullaby, protagonist Remy was understandably cynical because it was her mother's fifth (sixth? I can't remember) marriage. In That Summer, Haven is in the much more fragile stage of not quite believing that her parents have really split up. I never went through this stage. I'm not sure how I knew my parents would split up - they finally did when I was nine - but I did, and had several years to get used to the idea. In fact, I was kind of annoyed they didn't do it sooner. So I couldn't exactly relate to Haven's perspective, but I understand it's the much more common one, and mostly it made me sad and nostalgic. I kind of wish I'd had that phase.
This is also my first Dessen so far without any real romance. It's partly the age, as Haven at fifteen is the youngest protagonist of hers I've read, but it's also partly because Haven's conflict is within herself, which was amazing and I really wish I could see more of in YA. Haven's infatuation with Sumner in particular deserves a round of applause, because it is so very, very real. I am the older sister, so the guys were never my sister's boyfriend, but I've had the same thing happen to me. Multiple times. You'd think I'd learn. But in real life it's never as much about the "romance" as it is about recapturing happier times, and that's exactly what this book got right. The character of Gwendolyn Rogers was also intriguing, if confusing.
So. On one hand I'm saying it was formulaic, on another I'm listing off all the things that were amazing about it, and that's pretty much how I felt about this book, period. It was definitely worth reading for me, but I don't know how keen I'd be to recommend it to anyone else. And it's not like I have to, with Sarah Dessen's fan base. I will recommend this wholeheartedly to any aspiring YA writer, because even in her early stages Sarah Dessen is masterful at dialogue, both internal and interpersonal. So I'm going to skip the star rating (I hate hate hate star ratings anyway), and let you draw your own conclusions.