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Tag Archives: author: dessen

9780142401750_Dreamland_CV.inddDreamland  by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: September 1, 2000
Publisher: Speak
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He’s magnetic. He’s compelling. He’s dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else–her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?– Goodreads


Dreamland is much like the former Dessen books I read: same town, a girl in the shadows trying to carve her own path in the world.

I always counted on Cass to lead me. She was out there somewhere, but she’d taken her own route, and for once I couldn’t follow. This time, she’d left me to find my own way. —paperback, pg 16

Caitlin lives in her popular sister’s, Cass, shadow. They are two years apart and while Cass always gets gold, Caitlin gets bronze and she is fine with that. What I love about Dessen is that she write realistic family dynamics. While the family isn’t remotely perfect they clearly love each other and the sister bond is strong. Then the worst happens, in the middle of the night Cass leaves. She is scheduled to go to Yale and decides that path is no longer right for her. While Caitlin’s parents are at a loss, Cass does call to tell them everything is okay. Because Cass leaves on Caitlin’s birthday, once again Caitlin where she is worried about disappearing.

Cass doesn’t understand why her sister left. She thought they were close, that they told each other everything, and that things were okay. But they weren’t, while her older sister was crumbling, Caitlin was continuing on living. When her sister leaves Caitlin wonders if this is her chance to shine. Caitlin starts to pick up things, including cheerleading (which her mother loves as it is something new to fill the hole that Cass left).

What’s fascinating to me is how often Dessen is classified as teen romance, or YA romance and Dreamland is so much more than that. Much like her recent Saint Anything this book is a much darker novel than summer! bright! happy! YA books. Rogerson is not a good guy, while he’s very cardboard in the fact we never really find out why he’s this asshole character (besides his father was very much that way), Caitlin falls for him. She adores the fact that she isn’t Cass’ sister. She’s her own person, and neither of her parents, or their next door neighbors (the parents BFFs), notice that Caitlin is being emotionally abused and that Caitlin is constantly stoned.

No. One. Notices. And by the time they do notice, Caitlin is too far deep to care.

The first part of this book moved very, very slow for me; however, the second half really picks up and makes Dreamland memorable for me. There was a moment I realized that I had a lump  in my throat and I needed to make sure that Caitlin would be okay. I loved that Dessen made me wonder if everything would be okay. She wasn’t afraid to dig deep and then dig even deeper.

One of the things, actually I have two, I wish about Dessen’s novels was that 1) she diversified her books a little more (this is something she said she was working on) and that 2) is her treatment towards fat people. She spends a good portion of this book discussing how one of the cheerleaders gained 10-15 pounds this summer, and OH HOW IT SHOWS. This isn’t the first novel of her’s that I’ve had this issue with. From her newest Saint Anything to This Lullaby, which I just read, and it hurts my heart. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy what Dessen has done to the YA community, but these two things continue to be painful for me.

5655218This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: May 27, 2002
Publisher: Speak
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star (3.5)
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?– Goodreads


After the period where all I read was Sarah Dessen I had to take a break. From the fact the books started to run together and that  I needed to mix it up. The joys of being a mood reader is that this happens. The good news is that I’m three books away from having read all of them, much to the joy of my friend Sarah who has to deal with me in bookstores yelling about the fact the covers of Dessen’s books never match (Hi Sarah! Thanks for putting up with me!)

This Lullaby is the comfortable Sarah Dessen that we know, this book takes place in the same setting as her other ones, and deals with problems that everyone faces in their own way. Remy doesn’t believe in love. She has no faith in love, what she has faith in is that A + B = C, the sky is blue and that she has to get out of this town. While no one believed in her, she believed in herself and worked her way out of her small town. At the end of summer she is going to Stanford and will be free of her life and her mother’s failed relationships.

Of course this is easier said than done, Remy has good friends, she’s close to her brother, and as much as she wants to deny it, she’s close with her mother, the woman who Remy believes keeps marrying everyone. Remy actually doesn’t believe in love because of her mother. After the fifth marriage, Remy finds it hard to believe in true love. What Remy doesn’t expect in her last summer at home is Dex. Adorable musician Dex who seems through Remy’s hardass outside shell.

I adored This Lullaby. I though how Dessen wrote that last summer at home before college was perfection, from friendships, to Remy’s natural snark level, I found This Lullaby to be one of my favorites of Dessen’s world.

23009402Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Source: ALAMW2015
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.  – Goodreads


Last year, I read a lot of Sarah Dessen, not all of her backlist, but most of it. While I enjoyed it, none of the books overly shined to me, this may be because I read a lot of them in a shot period of time and they started to blend together to me. Saint Anything is completely different, it stands out and is completely by itself and I adored it.

Saint Anything is the story of Sydney, the second child in a family who was never seen because her older brother always was the star. She was fine with this life, she really didn’t want to be seen, she enjoyed her life with her two friends at her school, Perkins day. Life was on a path that she had expected. What no one expected was her brother to drive drunk, get a conviction and the guilt that would then follow Sydney around.

I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close.–pg 3, ARC

She ditched her fancy private school for public and tried to work through the guilt and the grief. What she didn’t expect was how hard it would be and how the world all of a sudden because Sydney vs the world. The world of course, being her parents, mostly her mother. Her father, while he loves her, is often absent with work, her mother took the role of June Cleaver very seriously and she excelled at it. The problem with this though, is that her mother spent all of her time focusing on Peyton, and when Peyton went to jail she continued to focus on Peyton, but Peyton in jail. Sydney was still never a thought to her.

I’ve done the right thing. I always did. It just would have been nice if someone had noticed.–pg 61, ARC

Sydney really just wants to be seen and I understand that. At 26-almost-27, there are days I would like someone to notice. But Sydney realized something that I did a few years ago: it’s okay to create your own family. And she does. One day she walks into a pizza place by her new high school and becomes friends with Layla, her brother Mac, and their family. They seem to get her. They get the guilt that she is covered in and they let her talk. Not only do they let her talk, they let her listen.

“Why do you feel like you have to shoulder your brother’s responsiblity?” “Because someone has to.”–pg 187, ARC

Lately, I’ve been enjoying books that have strong female friendships. This is probably because I take my friendships seriously and I work hard at them and what I enjoyed throughout Saint Anything was although Sydney switched schools she still worked at the friendships she had from Perkins Day. Not only that when things changed, as friendships do, she still tried to make it work. Same goes for her friendship with Layla, they were both fiercely protective of each other and while there is a painful moment, they work through it. Like friends do.

You really only really fall apart in front of the people you know can piece you back together. Mac and Layla were there for me. Even if, and especially when, I couldn’t do the same for them. –pg 387, ARC

There was one part I did not enjoy, and that was a part with Mac, where he proudly wore this medal as a reminder of being the fat kid and how it was the worst thing. Now he eats horrible tasting food, but at least he’s skinny. Would Sydney have liked him if he was fat? Would it have been the worst thing if he was fat? It was the only thing that stuck with me for awhile, that a month later had me coming back and editing my review.

I, of course, enjoyed how Dessen brought in hints of her previous books that make it quintessential Dessen. Although this was a departure from her previous novels, it is still the Dessen we know and love.




9780142401767_KeepingTheMo_CV.inddKeeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: September 1, 1999
Publisher: Speak
Source: The Library
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast — first for being fat and then for being “easy” — Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along – Goodreads


Colie doesn’t fit in. In her family, in school, in life. Her mother Kiki is a weight-loss guru and too busy being in infomercials to be Colie’s mother. And while Colie is used to being overweight, and she claims she was fine with it. She was not fine with the names but the voices but the fact the fat kept her warm, and comfortable. When her mother started to lose weight, Colie did too. Even though she lost all this weight, she does not have the confidence of being this skinnier person. There is no technique for that. This is a constant theme throughout the book for Colie and her life.

While Kiki is off in Europe, Colie goes to spend time with her mom’s sister, Mira, the kooky aunt in her life. What I find interesting about Dessen books is how she forms female friendships and how it’s always an us against them situation. While slowly the main character turns around and welcomes female friendships there is always this original guard up. I do wish she would mix that up a bit. But I did enjoy the “them” that Colie originally disliked. The two girls, are waitresses at the local joint: Isabel and Morgan. They are very opposite in personality from Colie, and she is not a fan of that. Colie has built these walls around herself and she enjoys that. But slowly, throughout Keeping the Moon help Colie to find herself. Her true self.

While is Colby, Colie gets a job at the local restaurant, which also helps her face her fears of people staring at her. It quickly dawned on her, that no one really cares about her. She’s invisible there, and she’s kind of okay with that. Colie actually isn’t, she’s lying to herself, and it’s painful to see, or read. What also doesn’t help Colie, is the fact she is in Colby with her eccentric aunt Mira. Mira is not popular in the town because she is unique, free spirit and not old country club. This is not approved by a good portion of Colby. People like Morgan on the other hand, don’t care. They appreciate Mira, and Colie, for who they are without changing.

Everything is going well for Colie until her high school enemy comes to town and makes Colie feel teeny-tiny again. Isabel tells Colie that she should be standing for that bullshit. She should stand up for herself and expect people to be decent to her. She doesn’t, so then when they’re assholes to her she looks like a sad puppy but she saw it coming. What I found most fascinating throughout Keeping the Moon was how Colie changed throughout the novel. As is typical for Dessen novels, the main character grows a lot throughout the novel, and I enjoy that predictability. My heart went out for Colie more than most characters, possibly because I related to her more than the other characters that Dessen had wrote (or even I previously read). Colie the former fat kid had pain that middle school Ashley related to and still hurt me to read about to this day. It was also interesting for me, because I have not read Dessen in order, it is clear to me that this is one of her earlier novels, if only for the use of the word “walkman” but that didn’t mean that I enjoyed it less.

9780142415566_AlongForTheR_CV.inddAlong for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend. – Goodreads


Along for the Ride is the story of Auden, a girl who never sleeps. Her parents were constantly fighting and she just started to stay up. Her parents being divorced is of course a key part of her life. Her mother and her strive for perfection, her father and the new, younger wife, and the baby is a lot for Auden to take in. But she makes due, even if she doesn’t want to. The never sleeping only gets her so far. While her mother loves her almost far too much (the need of perfection since her older brother is…not) her father almost doesn’t parent at all. It seems that he doesn’t know how to parent, which shows with the new baby and his wife Heidi. He’s forcing Heidi to do almost everything and Auden can feel the tension and how you can cut it with a knife.

Auden however stays with her father in this small beach town, that is featured in multiple Dessen novels. It’s interesting to see Auden find her place in her father’s new world. It isn’t that she’s at odds with her step-mother and father, but it’s that she doesn’t know how she fits into their new life, with a newborn. What Auden quickly finds out is that her family needs her even they don’t know it. Her step-mother is failing and her father is in denial about her. The baby is taking a lot out of Heidi, and Auden begins to assist her and Heidi is thankful. Heidi becomes a different person when she gets four hours of sleep!

Then Heidi and Auden’s father begin to have the same fights that her parents had. Her father is selfish and has not changed: at all. And that hurts Auden’s heart. Her father gives no shit about anyone but himself. When Heidi tells him this he rages because he is in denial about it. Because he’s there for them, but not in the way that counts. Auden wants to shake him so he figures his shit out. What’s awesome though is how Heidi and Auden are on the same team. The same side and they work with each other. It’s a new friendship that she does not have with her actual mother no matter how she tries and Auden slowly begins to form this nice friendship with her step-mother, something she planned on forming with her father, but again, her father is an interesting gentleman.

In typical Dessen fashion, Auden does not relate to other girls, because she doesn’t understand how to be that girl: whatever is the opposite of the it girl of the novel. But slowly Auden actually warms up to the girls at Heidi’s store and they become actual friends. Auden puts her new friends in a very particular box though, and later when the friends break that stereotype box Auden is in legit shock and it is a perfect moment. What Auden doesn’t expect is for her mother to make a surprise trip to Colby and to hate the fact that Auden isn’t the Auden she let go to Colby. Auden has changed and grown and that shocks her academic mother.

But throughout the summer Auden continues to change who she is, and not in a bad way, she’s just growing. She gets closer to Eli and begins to have feelings for him even though she’s in denial about them. Feelings are not studious, something her mother trained and molded her for. Her mother molded her for greatness. Not for love. What her mother also molded her for, was to look down on people who were academically not as good as her. She didn’t do this on purpose, but her brother was a flake and she worked hard to not be a flake.

I enjoyed this book and the growth of Auden throughout the book. It’s the one thing I always enjoy from Dessen novels, there is always growth. While I do not regret reading so many Sarah Dessen’s in a short time, I do wish I would have spread them out more, because they really do start to all blur together. Same themes, and boys, which is fine, but I did wish Dessen would mix it up and tell a brand new story. One I didn’t see in other stories of hers. While three stars seems bad, it’s actually not. I did enjoy the book, I just have no interest in re-reading it.

15812724What Happened to Goodbye  by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: May 10, 2010
Publisher:  Viking Juvenile
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Who is the real McLean?

Since her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother’s new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combining Sarah Dessen’s trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading. – Goodreads


The more I read Sarah Dessen the more her books run together. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I just believe that I would have enjoyed these more if I would have spread them out a bit more. Of course, I regret nothing.

What Happened to Goodbye is the story of McLean, a girl who is constantly moving and constantly making her life over every time her and her father move. Her father and her mother divorced after her mother slept with the local basketball coach and ended up pregnant. McLean feels that she no longer fits in with her mother, and her mother’s new family and she is happy to move around with her father. Create her new self.

She hates being not part of her mothers family, but it hurts too much to act like nothing has changed. Her mother tries, she tries to reach out but McLean needs a break. She wants to be her own person, who’s mother did not break her heart. McLean also hates the fact that her mother is constantly trying to control her. She wants a break from that also. From McLean’s point of view, her mother wants everything to be the way it was, and it will never be like that again. McLean is too upset about the situation. Her heart hurts too much.

Something has changed this move though, McLean did not change her name this round. She stays McLean, she doesn’t create a new persona and she’s slightly confused and shocked by this. Her father is equally shocked by this, she is finally fine being..herself. What she doesn’t expect is how much this small down changes her. The people, the place, and herself, go through some growing. My heart went out to McLean throughout this novel. She’s bitter at her mother, but she also misses her mother and what was their life together. I understood, because while my parents are happily married, we didn’t always get along for part of my life and while I miss what was, I actually enjoy our current relationship far more than our previous relationship. McLean tried to make the best of a bad situation, but for her that was easier said than done.

While her mother is trying and trying, McLean is very much a brick wall towards her mother. She is trying to form other relationships and friendships, including her next door neighbor Dave. Who is a brainiac that should be in college, but is trying to be as normal as possible. This book was very organic to me, nothing that Dessen wrote seemed forced. McLean just wants her mother to state that her mother messed up her life.

But through a cast of characters, including probably my new favorite Deb, Dessen created a solid novel that made me from feeling ambivalent about this novel to wanting more.

15396187Just Listen  by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: April 6, 2006
Publisher: Viking’s Children’s Books
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends. – Goodreads


I have been marathoning Sarah Dessen via audiobooks from my library’s overdrive app. This means that I, a fast talker and faster reader, and listen to audiobooks at 2X and everything is lovely and happy. However, my library does not have all of her books via the app and this means I have to go old school and listen to it on CD. HOW DO I LIVE?! I don’t know. But really, I’m joking. I don’t mind listening to audiobooks on CD and in my car. But I realized while listening to Just Listen is that it is almost painful for me to listen to it at normal speed which ultimately effected my enjoyment of this novel. The narrator seemed to draw it out and make it try to go on forever, and not in a good way. There are multiple books that I’ve read that if they were to go on forever I would have hearts in my eyes. This was not one of them. That is part the narration and part the story.

I have wrote and re-wrote this review multiple times and each version ends up with the same “meh” feeling about the book. I am not sure if that comes from my problem with the narration, or the book in general, but ultimately it didn’t work for me. Just Listen is the story of Annabel, a girl who lives in a glass house where everything looks perfect. Of course, as everyone knows, looks can be deceiving. Her life is not remotely perfect. Annabel and her two sisters are models, the girls who have everything, but they aren’t. Her one sister is anorexic, the other one “ratted” her out and Annabel found out that she officially has no one in her life. She’s lost all of her friend(s), her mother has been dealing with depression for quite sometime now, and Annabel has never felt so alone.

Annabel doesn’t talk to anyone about anything. She keeps it all inside. There is a lot of information given in the first quarter of the novel between past and present and one thing is clear: Annabel keeps a lot in because she believes it is helping to keep her family together and sane. Keeping it together is clearly not healthy for her. Annabel is falling apart and the only person who is there for her, is her classmate Owen Armstrong. Owen is the mysterious bad boy that no one knows a lot about, but one day, when things fall apart he is there for her. He doesn’t push her, he just sit there. Owen also has his own background that is complicated, but he gets through it with music. Music is clearly Owen’s passion.

This was not an easy book for me to read, I actually felt a lot of guilt while reading this. Annabel treated Clark horribly, in part due to Sophie. Sophie in the later years treats Annabel horribly. Or maybe she always treated her horribly and Annabel just noticed right now after sleeping with Sophie’s boyfriend. It seems that Sophie doesn’t actually care about her boyfriend, what Sophie cares about is the popularity that her boyfriend gives her. Of course sleeping with Sophie’s girlfriend turns Annabel into the social outcast. No one talks to her now. No one but Owen. Owen who encourages her to always tell the truth, no matter how hard it is. It’s not that Owen makes Annabel be a better person, but he encourages her to be her true self.

While Annabel finds her true self, so do we, the reader. Not everything is what it seems, in part because Annabel refuses to speak the truth, to anyone. It took me about 40% of the novel to actually warm up to Annabel, I spend so much of the novel annoyed at her, that when I started to like her, it creeped up on me. It was unexpected and I was shocked that I began to have feelings for Annabel. I went from wanting to shake her, to wanting to cry with her. It was amazing how slow that switch occurred also. I know it wasn’t fair to judge Annabel at the beginning, but I did not find her likable or more importantly, I didn’t care about her story. She did begin to grow though, she didn’t necessarily become more likable, I just started to relate to her more and my heart began to go out of her.

The story became more flushed and realistic when Annabel let her guard down and started to be honest with herself, and Owen. Something he encouraged from their very first meeting was that she should be honest, at least with herself and others. But mostly of herself. What she learns is that it is important to tell the truth, than to try and make everyone happy. This is something I still fight with on a daily basis. As many issues as I seemed to have with this novel, I ended up enjoying it. Dessen does have a way with contemporary YA, even if I was in denial about it at the time.