Hello, internet people! This past weekend, I got a little extra time to myself and was able to tear through the latest Sarah Dessen novel, The Rest of the Story.
Most of you know that I’ve been a Dessen fan since middle school, when a teacher introduced me to her books. One of the books that moves with me from place to place is a signed copy of Just Listen, from that time I awkwardly stood very far away from Sarah Dessen while my friend took our picture. She is one of the writers who has always inspired me, and who I’ve never stopped reading, even after all this time.
So, you can imagine my excitement when I found out we were getting a new book this year! I marked June 4th on my calendar, pre-ordered the book, and anxiously awaited the weekend when I could really sit down and dig in. On Sunday, I finally did.
There are many things I love about returning to a favorite author, particularly one who continues to publish new books. It’s like sitting down with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while, and unlike a reread, you get to catch up with what’s new. I still remember the last time I did this, back in 2017 when Once and For All came out. Then, I was shocked to find the protagonist dealing with an issue I’d been struggling with myself (see the original post for more).
This time, the story wasn’t quite so close to home. But that’s the thing about a Dessen (as I fondly went around calling this book for the whole handful of days it took me to read it). You can always relate to the struggles of the protagonist–she has a way of taking the coming-of-age story, universal truths about growing into yourself and discovering who you’ve been and who you will be, and lightly draping them over the delightful backdrop of a summer romance. That summer between high school and college is her sweet spot, and through it she has explored so very many issues that are essential for young adults.
The primary struggles this time are understanding family, history, and learning how your sense of self fits into–and defies–those narratives. Even at 27, I feel there’s plenty to learn about self-identity and understanding who you are in relation to your history, your family’s history, and even your future.
I enjoyed this book immensely, even if I didn’t swoon over the male protagonist in quite the way I would have as a teenager (or maybe this one just isn’t my type?). As always, it balanced light, summertime vacation and first love with the real struggles of growing into yourself and making choices that will help define who you become. Dessen has a way of making characters come to life, giving them idiosyncrasies and ways of talking that foster connection and truth.
Not to mention, she has her own universe at this point. Though I haven’t reread the earlier books in years (is it time? It might be time), I still know reflexively when I see a reference to the band Spinnerbait on the page that “Hate Spinnerbait” is the correct response. Little mentions like this are fun inside nods to longterm fans (or simply voracious ones), but are a delicate enough touch that I doubt they’d distract a reader not in the know.
I will forever and always recommend Sarah Dessen, and The Rest of the Story is no different. So glad to have spent my Sunday afternoon with Emma Saylor and everyone up at North Lake/Lake North.