I Will Probably Still Be Reading Sarah Dessen Novels When I’m 80 years old

I just finished book #9 of 2015, and it was so, so wonderful. Also maybe embarrassing, but who cares. I’ve already shared my thoughts on “bad” books. So I read What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, and it was wonderful in the way that only Sarah Dessen novels are.

A little background if you’re unfamiliar with his author or her books: she writes coming-of-age type young adult novels full of young adult characters who are always a little bit unrealistic and always completely lovable and perfect. I don’t know what it is, maybe Dessen’s writing or maybe the way that I can only relate to her stories in a removed, could-only-happen-in-books-and-movies way.

It could also be that there is always more than just the love interest. There are touching moments of familial conflict and forgiveness, and friendship developments. The romance is usually the end-game, but the plot is thickened beautifully with these other young-adult themes. Whatever it is, her books are addictive and I love them all even at the age of 22, when I maybe shouldn’t be professing my love for 18-year-old characters.

This particular one is about a girl who’s coping with her parents’ divorce and the very public cheating scandal that accompanied it when her mom had an affair with a local celebrity. So, in typical Dessen fashion, there’s family conflict and a resultant teenage girl staying strong and burying her feelings about said conflict.

She decides to live with her father, and moves around with him as he works as a restaurant consultant, rehabilitating failing restaurants. As this main character, Mclean Elizabeth Sweet, moves around, she begins going by a different name in each new place, and taking up corresponding personalities to accompany those names. She also, of course, avoids getting close to anyone, knowing that it will only be a matter of time before she moves on and has to start over with a new name, new personality, and new life.

Inevitably, she moves in next to a boy her own age with family conflicts of his own, a strange back story and an accompanying strange group of friends. Mclean suddenly finds herself being honest with him and this group, and a beautiful teen romance blossoms from there.

In the first fifty pages, and as soon as Mclean meets this neighbor (Dave, who is a slightly socially awkward boy-genius) in an unconventional fashion, it becomes obvious that they will end up together. The reader can also safely assume a romance that will develop between Mclean’s dad and another characters, based on one offhand detail that I don’t want to expand upon because I don’t like spoilers.

I don’t know, though, it almost makes it more exciting that you pretty much find out who’s going to end up with whom near the beginning. It’s almost like you’re in on this secret, and the relationship becomes accessible, or something. You get just as wrapped up in the precious, nerve-inducing early stages as the characters are.

I could make critiques: all her plots really are almost identical, as are the characters and the trajectory of the romances in her novels. I fall for all of them, though, for whatever reason. She does it well, and if you’re going to make a living off of something that’s hard to make a living off of, why not stick to what you do best?

Of course there’s something to be said for branching out, exploring new creative outlets, but I love every Dessen novel that I have read (which might be every single one she’s written), so there’s also something to be said for that, too, yeah? ◊

It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.”

– 165

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