Book Review: Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

My favorite book by Sarah Dessen is Keeping the Moon (1999). Nicole Sparks used to be friendless and overweight. But even after her weight loss, mostly brought about by her mother’s recent success as a famous fitness instructor, Colie’s still friendless, and bullied at school by false, vicious rumors. When her mother leaves to promote her fitness brand on a European tour, Colie is dismayed to be sent to the beach of Colby, North Carolina to stay with her eccentric aunt Mira for the summer.

On her first night in Colby, Colie meets Norman, the artsy Deadhead who lives in her aunt’s basement; and Morgan and Isabel, the two waitresses at the Last Chance Bar and Grill. Perky, organized, brown-haired Morgan takes an instant liking to Colie, and asks her to help out at the restaurant. On the other hand, Morgan’s best friend and fellow waitress– the blonde, gorgeous and moody Isabel– makes no effort to disguise her disdain for Colie. But Colie joins the staff at the Last Chance– where Norman also happens to work – and eventually forges an unlikely bond with all three of them: Norman, Morgan, and even Isabel.

The raw and beautiful friendship between Morgan and Isabel steals the show, weaving its own fleshed-out story behind Colie, and making the reader yearn for a friendship like theirs. As such, Keeping the Moon is the definition of chick lit, a “girl book” through and through. And I mean that as high praise! Dessen has won me over again (she had me at What Happened to Goodbye) in her perfect, all-American coming-of-age narrative. I absolutely adored this book from start to finish and will be recommending it to all of my girlfriends.

Book Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

That Summer is about a very tall fifteen-year-old girl named Haven, who is self-conscious about her height. The novel begins as Haven’s dad remarries. Her formerly wild older sister, Ashley, is also getting married to a straight-laced fellow at the end of the summer. The story revolves around the dramas of Haven’s dysfunctional family, and her frequent reflections upon one perfect summer at Virginia Beach, when her family was at it’s most ‘normal,’ and Ashley was dating a boy named Sumner.

Now, the jovial and exciting Sumner unexpectedly reappears in Haven’s life, constantly popping up in unlikely places and bringing the comfort, ease, and security Haven craves. Whether or not Haven has a romantic interest in Sumner, or he in her, is ambiguous. A readable debut by Dessen, but IMO hasn’t stood the test of time.

Book Review: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You (1998) is narrated by Halley, a sixteen-year-old girl just trying to find herself under the stifling confines of her overprotective mother. When Halley’s best friend, Scarlett, discovers she’s pregnant – and the baby’s father has died in a motorcycle accident – Halley is beside Scarlett every step of the way. While Scarlett navigates her choices from abortion to adoption, Halley is secretly facing a decision crisis of her own. Should she sleep with her scumbag new boyfriend before he leaves her for someone that will? Or should she keep her virginity intact, taking a tip from her best friend, Scarlett?

Halley’s new boyfriend, Macon, is despicable. He treats her like dirt, keeps secrets from her, drinks and does drugs, obviously fools around behind her back, and completely disregards Halley’s safety. Meanwhile, Halley ignores the warnings of her family and friends. But Halley’s mother isn’t doing her any favors. Although Mrs. Cooke is right in telling her daughter that Macon is no good, she suffocates Halley, trying to control her  every move, to the point where Halley almost has to see Macon, just to escape her overbearing parent. One of Dessen’s more sobering works, and overall, a tale of friendship rather than romance.

Book Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen is a teen novel published in 2008. The main character is the redheaded Ruby. Keeping up with what seems to be the theme with Dessen’s main characters, Ruby’s not interested in making friends or being dependent on anyone else. The proverbial lock in the title refers to Ruby’s heart. After being abandoned by her family, she refuses to let anyone in, or give anyone the chance to help– or hurt– her. But when Social Services sends her to live with her estranged older sister, Cora, and new brother-in-law at their wealthy estate, Ruby eventually learns that she doesn’t have to live her life as a “one-woman operation.”

We meet Ruby as an antisocial pothead with no direction. Her motto is to expect the worst, and never be disappointed. But throughout the story, the reader witnesses Ruby’s transformation, as she begins to form real and meaningful relationships. This is a touching book about family, friendship, and learning to trust. There are some painful themes of child abuse running throughout. But this is also a beautiful story of two sisters. And a bittersweet love story is in the mix too, with the boy-next-door, who’s hiding his own secrets and pain, albeit with a completely different approach than Ruby’s. A solid read.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen is the charming story of high school senior, Mclean. Mclean’s life was her family, her family’s restaurant, and basketball… until their restaurant went under. Then, her mother cheated on her father with his favorite basketball team’s coach, and got pregnant. With twins. Needless to say, her parents suffered a bitter divorce.

Disgusted with her mother– who now has the audacity to act as if nothing’s the matter, and even fight for custody of Mclean– Mclean chooses to follow her dad and his new restaurant consulting job. But Gus Sweet’s new job requires constant moving, every several months. No problem; Mclean takes it as an opportunity to totally reinvent herself in all her new towns and schools. But now in Lakeview, her attempts at creating another alter-ego are thwarted.

Mclean tries to avoid establishing attachments, because she knows at anytime her father’s job may relocate them. But somehow, new friends are finding her: from Opal, the tattooed, retro-punk manager of Gus’s new restaurant; to Heather and Riley, the cool girls, yet something of misfits themselves; to Deb, the type-A personality “spaz,” who also happens to have a good heart and a surprising interest in metal music. And then, of course, there’s Dave, the long-haired boy genius who lives next-door. Despite her efforts to be standoffish, Mclean can’t help but begin to fall in love with Lakeview, her classmates at Jackson High, and the colorful staff at her father’s latest restaurant. But causing turbulence behind the scenes is Mclean’s mother. Guilt-ridden on her father’s behalf, but wanting to avoid another custody battle, Mclean endures awkward dinners and basketball games with her new step-dad and toddler-age half-siblings, and a mother whom she hardly recognizes anymore.

I loved reading about Mclean’s friends and their own stories. I also enjoyed the scenes with the restaurant staff. Even Mclean’s mother, whom you can’t help but both pity and hate, is an interesting and sympathetic character. Mclean’s lovable, handsome workaholic father is someone I missed as soon as the book ended. But the true heart of the story are Mclean’s friends – in particular, her budding relationship with the kind and mysterious Dave. This novel had heart and soul, and I would recommend it.