Friday, May 2, 2014

Reading Roundup: The 5 Best Things About Sarah Dessen for YA Readers

I think I've mentioned it before, but I recently discovered that Sarah Dessen's entire oeuvre is available in the Nashville Public Library's eBook collection. And ever since that fall semester of YA books, where I first read Dessen in Along for the Ride, she has been my go-to author when I need something light and fun to read. This worked out perfectly for our recent two months of travel, armed with just a Kobo and a library card!

From quick pleas for book recommendations from female friends to job interview questions about book talks for young readers, Sarah Dessen has proved to be a very helpful answer for various book queries I've had in the past several months! I absolutely love her, and here's why:

  1. Her plot lines are relatable—every day characters dealing with their every day lives.
  2. They're never too dark and serious. Sure, there are "issues" but nothing that would have your mom ask, "Why are you reading something so sad??" like mine would.
  3. However, her characters are not idiots. The books are enjoyable but they're not total fluff. Her characters have flaws but always develop a strong sense of self-confidence if they didn't have it before. Also, they generally accept other people's flaws—a good worldview to adopt.
  4. The fact that you could categorize her books as Romance means there's a dependable happy ending. (At least in all the ones I've read so far.)
  5. She has written A ZILLION BOOKS! (Ok, her website tells me it's only 11, but I definitely thought it was more.) This is perfect for a librarian's readers' advisory. "You liked this book by Sarah Dessen? Awesome! She has more!"

Over the course of our two-month trip, 3 of the 10 books I read were by Dessen. I'm not going to go into great depth, but I did want to share a quick summary of the three I read along with the stand-out themes of each.

In Keeping the Moon, Colie is sent to live for the summer in a town called Colby with her eccentric aunt while her infomercial-famous mother heads to Europe on a promotional tour for her fitness programs. Colie, like her mother, used to be overweight, but the two of them have embarked on a new healthy life. Only, for Colie, it didn't result in the same newfound self-confidence as for her mother. Colie still suffers at the hand of class bullies, and Colby is, finally, a place where she doesn't have the same social stigma as back home. She starts working as a waitress at a local grill and befriends her coworkers. For the first time in a while, she can live freely without always putting up a guard and keeping all her feelings hidden within. And that allows her to start to view the world around her--how people treat one another, how actions affect others—and how those outside influences don't have to define how you think of yourself.

The main theme in this one is self-esteem. Having always let the words of bullies affect her own sense of self, Colie observes the opposite when her Aunt Mira, often teased and ostracized by neighbors, just lets the words roll right off her. Viewing it from a different perspective gives Colie the confidence to face her own demons—both literal and figurative. This also teaches how social interactions matter and that flaws don't define a person.

That Summer is about a girl named Haven who's got a lot on her plate. Her fiesty older sister Ashley is about to get married to the most boring guy on the planet. And her dad is getting married too, to his much younger colleague at the local TV station where he works--the weather girl, with which he most definitely had an affair before Haven's parents were divorced. To Haven, nothing feels stable anymore; she takes solace in remembering good times of the past, and she can't understand why she's the only one who wants things the way they were. On top of all this, Haven was cursed with height. At almost six feet tall, she's way taller than cute and perfect Ashley, and she's not exactly comfortable in her own skin. When Haven randomly runs into Sumner Lee, her favorite of Ashley's many old boyfriends, she finds an escape and comfort in hanging out with someone from her happier past.

While Haven does have some self-image issues like Colie, that's not the main focus on this book. The biggest issue facing Haven is how to find happiness when the life you knew and loved has changed so drastically. She has a hard time facing the present and all of problems; she'd rather just live in the past. The biggest lesson here is that problems won't just go away if you ignore them; you have to deal. And life and circumstances will change; if the present sucks, things can get better.

Mclean is living in the aftermath of her parents' bitter divorce in What Happened to Goodbye. For the past two years, she's been with her dad, moving from town to town, wherever his job takes them. Every new place gives Mclean the opportunity to reinvent herself—she's been a goth, an egghead, and everything in between. Plus, Mclean knows they never stay that long anywhere anyway; there's no time for anyone to know the real her. Once they arrive in Lakeview, though, it's different. Mclean doesn't create a new character for herself for once, and she starts making real friends and facing the things she's been avoiding—mostly her mom, who's started a new life with a new husband and new kids. Her new friendships and relationships make Mclean realize how much she's been missing by keeping everyone at a distance, but if she's learned anything, it's that it can always just disappear out from under you.

What Happened to Goodbye has many of the same themes as That Summer; Mclean's world has changed, and rather than move on, she just sort of stops living. Colie coped by trying to live in the past; Mclean copes by changing herself. In doing so, she cuts herself off from people and avoids facing her own problems, which is a very lonely existence. This story is mostly about identity and figuring out who you are when you no longer know, because confidence makes it much easier to handle life's unexpected hurdles.

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