Hey guys! Welcome back to Tuesday Book Journeys, where I share with you some of my favorite books, authors, and genres. This past week I’ve been organizing my room, sorting and decluttering and making piles for donation. Much of this decluttering was dedicated to my collection of books for which I don’t have the space to store. As I revisited the titles and held each book in my hands to determine its fate — Marie Kondo style — I couldn’t help but feel inclined to share with you some of those books that defined many of my adolescent summers.
If you know me, you know I’m a romantic at heart. Hand me a romance novel or a rom-com movie and watch my imagination come to life. As a young girl, my bookshelves displayed the brightly colored spines of YA romance novels. Of course, as I’ve grown, my taste in books has migrated — sci-fi, murder mystery, and, of course, the practically mandatory vampire phase. However, a YA summer romance story has never ceased to hold my interest. Of course, I try to maintain a healthy balance of fiction and non-fiction genres on my reading list; regardless, when summer comes around, I’m a sucker for a light-hearted love story to accompany me during a day at the pool or the cool, air-conditioned confines of a coffee shop.
My first encounter with a YA love story, and what still remains one of my favorites to this day, was author Sarah Dessen and her book The Truth About Forever.
Any good love story begins with a flirtatious, realistically plausible meet-cute. What Sarah Dessen does well, and what encouraged me to read all of her published works, is that she creates a believable universe in which her characters have extensive histories. Behind the romance are lessons to be learned, obstacles to overcome. These elements combined ground me into each story.
Though her books all center around a cast of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, there are certain morals and values that transcend the age of the reader. Moreover, Dessen’s books are contemporary; if you’re looking for realistic portrayals of transitions into young adulthood, you’ve come to the right place.
In The Truth About Forever, Macy is coping with the recent loss of her father due to a sudden heart attack mid-run. She feels as if she’s to blame since she was supposed to be on that run with him, and the guilt begins to consume her. Add to that a less-than-romantic boyfriend who is away at college and Macy’s summer begins to look very bleak. Then, bam, the meet-cute.
“I was also interested in seeing a character go through a loss, and how that affected the way she viewed the world. When the story begins, Macy is scared, and she deals with her fear by trying to control as much as she can: her appearance, her behavior, how others perceive her. She narrows her life, shutting out everything that could possibly be a risk to her. It isn’t until she meets a group of people who have a total opposite approach—courting, enjoying, and surviving chaos—that she realizes that in reacting to her dad dying, she’s stopped living herself.”
What I admire about most of Dessen’s books is the meaningful character development. Sure, its happening coincides with the introduction of a love interest, but it’s bigger than just falling in love. Every story is transformative, a true reflection of what it’s like to be young and scared and confused. Specifically in this novel, there’s a huge emphasis on learning not to take life too seriously. Macy’s love interest, Wes, provides her with a space to experience freedom and self-expression in a way that she’s lacked her whole life.
“No one could tell you: you just had to go through it on your own. If you were lucky, you came out on the other side and understood. If you didn’t, you kept getting thrust back, retracing those steps, until you finally got it right.”
Other notable mentions of Dessen’s work are This Lullaby and Dreamland. Beneath the lure of romance are stories of self-discovery and personal growth. Most of the protagonists in Dessen’s books struggle with difficult home lives, whether it be an alcoholic mother, a deceased parent, or a runaway sibling. In the wake of these tragedies, we see admirable growth from these girls who are reeling from the aftermath.
Not only did I see these books as an escape from reality but also as a tool to start conversations around the difficult topics they address. Dreamland tackles an abusive relationship while This Lullaby recounts a not-so-welcome change in family dynamic. There was a subtle comfort knowing that I had these books to turn to as I stumbled my own way through adolescence. Now, in my twenties, there’s still a part of my that feels giddy when I see a new Sarah Dessen novel on the shelves at my local bookstore. I covet the empowering themes as much as I take delight in the inevitable romance.
What I’ve discovered, at least in my own experience, is that a meet-cute is a rare but welcome occurrence. Specifically, in college, there were only a handful of instances where a forgotten pencil, textbook, Scantron, would lead to a memorable encounter. Still, I’m hopeful for that bam moment. For now, when I’m lacking that perfect romance to spice up my own life, I have my old, dog-eared, paperback romances to fall back on.
Sometimes it’s a welcoming thing to revisit your past, even if it’s not so much your past. Sandwiched between pages and ink and slow-burning romance might be truths and lessons you didn’t noticed the first read-through, or didn’t realize you needed until you did a little growing up of your own.
I’m Dana, a recent college grad from Sonoma State University and newly appointed Social Media Intern here at A+D here to chat with you every Tuesday and Friday. I’m excited to be a part of and witness the publishing process through the lens of a boutique agency. It’s so cool to be a part of a publishing movement specializing in artistic branding and helping contemporary writers craft their written work. Here, we’ll chat about the books that are changing and shaping our lives! So, here’s the place to explore them, to let them out. You can just think of me as your modern-day Bridget Jones – the bookish version!