Summer Reading Review: Sarah Dessen’s Once and for All


Review for Sarah Dessen’s Once and for All

What can I say about Sarah Dessen that has not already been written a million times? She is a bestselling author whose first book was published in 1996.

I was introduced to Dessen through a friend who recommended her books to me, and of course being a young teenager obsessed with romance, I fell in love with her writing, and was blinded from any flaws in her books. When I recommended one of my favorite books of Dessen’s, Just Listen, to a friend (who was much older than me), the friend said she thought it was immature until the end. I was surprised because everyone I recommended Dessen’s to, feel in love with her. However, now being older and maintaining a BA in English (I am not trying to brag, but majoring in English turns you into a monster that criticizes any type of storytelling) I now find issues within Dessen’s writing.

Let’s start with a reoccurring theme in Dessen’s books. The story usually begins with the loss of a loved one for the protagonist, usually pertaining to death. This is something I usually love about her books. I know she has helped a lot of people through grief periods with her writing. However, the dead parents were starting to get old after a while. I believe that is why I skipped Dessen’s last book Saint Anything because I was growing bored of Dessen, and her stories are starting to seem the same. When I read that the protagonist of Once and for All, Louna, father has died I rolled my eyes and thought “oh big surprise,” and almost put down the book. However, this is not the loss Louna deals within her life. Her father abandons her and dies when she is three. I thought this is a repeat from Just Listen, but I digress. Louna’s lost the same as in Dessen’s other book Someone Like You were a character’s boyfriend dies (like I said Dessen has been repeating herself lately). However, this is slightly different wherein SLY it is the protagonist best friend’s boyfriend; whereas, is OAFA it is the main character herself, Louna, who loses her boyfriend. If you are mad because this might be a spoiler, it is not because it is revealed in the first couple of chapters.

Honestly, the flashbacks of Louna and her deceased boyfriend are the best sections of this book. I feel that they are very strong and everyone can relate to that late night summer when you spend all night with that one person you know will become a defining relationship. There are some issues I have within these sections of the story, such as the two of them dropping the love bomb after only a night together, but they are teenagers, so it can be forgiven. The only problem with these sections is Dessen does not do the typical trope of having a flashback. Which is something reminding Louna of the time she spent with Ethan, and then she goes into the memory. Instead the sections are separate chapters. This causes problems because it feels out of place. This might have worked if they were every other chapter, but instead the flashbacks chapters are scattered throughout the novel. I know Dessen does not write series, and all her books take place within the same universe, but this plot it might have been better if one book was about Louana and Ethan story, and the other is her dealing with his death and trying to move on with Ambrose.

I say this novel is worth reading for those chapters alone, and can really help with someone who is going through the death of a spouse.

The other issue I have with this novel is Louna’s character in general. As a reader, you do not really know her likes and dislikes as far as hobbies or what she is interested in at school. What will she be majoring in when she goes to college? Even stating she does not know would show some character development, but we do not receive any of this which is strange for a Dessen novel because her female protagonists are usually so well developed. Louana just reacts to everything around her, and is a cynic about love despite being in the wedding business. She does not really receive any character development until the end when she realizes that she is a workaholic like her mother, and that is about it.

The last thing I do not like about this novel is that Dessen argues that every romance in some way has to be epic in order to work, and she does not mean in the fantasy way, but in the romantic sunset walking, every moment is epic, passionate, and have sparks flying between them constantly. I know there are couples out there who have a really tame relationship and are fine with this. I have issues with Dessen saying all relationships need to be epic. Since young adults read her books, I do not want them to receive the wrong message.

I should probably say what I do like about this novel, since I claim to love Sarah Dessen’s work.

Ambrose is a really fun character that I would usually hate because he dates so many girls; however, he is still fun and I am pretty sure he has ADD which is nice to see a character with a mental disability be a protagonist. At one point he justly steals a dog and it is honestly my favorite chapter in the book. Though I find his chemistry with Louna rocky because of her lack of development, I still find him a very fun character.

Also, I liked that Louna’s name is a combination of her parents’ names: Louis and Natalie. This is clever.

The book design is beautiful and screams wedding which is a major theme of the book. The jacket is of a girl throwing a pink bouquet and with a blue and pink blush background while the actual book is purple and the inside is pink. I know this is a weird thing to love, but Dessen’s books are always really pretty to look at.

Overall I give the book a 3 out of 5 stars.

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