Here’s the thing: Sarah Dessen is pretty much a goddess in the world of YA and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I love, love, looooove her. She has an undeniably distinct voice, managing to encapsulate strong protagonists, swoontastic boys, serious issues and always, always warmth and humor. She has perfected the tingle in my toes moments and written novels that I want to return to again and again. If you’ve read her, you know. You know about her awesome locales, swoony times, made up words/songs, and the heroines we all want as our best friends.
So, as with everything in life, I feel it is necessary to make a list of the reasons Dessen rocks (lists make me happy. Humor me).
1. Her books are written beautifully. The words are so fluid that I’d swear she just wrote them in one sitting, a continuous flow of lyrical story-telling that manages to both make me laugh and grip my heart with the weight of some of the heavier issues. Of course, I know this isn’t true because I read her blog and Twitter feed (wow. I sound like a stalker) and find it hilarious that she claims to panic and consider going back into waitressing every time she’s writing a new novel. It all just comes across so smooth and effortless, as though the stories are telling themselves rather than being invented by a mom who’s chasing a toddler around.
2. Strong but believable protagonists– Each is grappling with a different issue—from the loss of a parent, to a father’s remarriage. No one is living a perfect life. This is what makes her characters so real that they feel like they could crawl from the pages and sit beside you in the school cafeteria. They are reflections of real people we may know, or often of ourselves.
3. The boys– Oh Swoon City. Let’s be honest. I forced myself not to make this numero uno. The boys are again, believable. Not perfect. Not otherworldly. They are like the guy who could live right next door…only hotter. They range from adorably kooky (Hello Dexter! How’s that Potato Opus coming along?) to downright charming, each one as loveable as the next. Dessen has a way of taking normal boys and making them extraordinary.
4. The romance- What I love about the romance is how it develops. These are never cases of two people staring from across a crowded hallway and whammo, true love. Nor do they get the coincidental “he’s the new boy in school who just happens to be her new lab partner” treatment. The relationships always start from a friendship and grow slowly from there. There is never intense physical action, but there are tons of tingly times.
5. The extra details- Dessen sets most of her books in a fictional town in the Northeast. The characters often visit some of the same places listen to the same radio programs or go to the same schools. While the stories don’t entirely overlap, characters often crossover. It’s never essential to the plot, but there might be a random sighting of a couple you recognize from a previous novel sitting nearby or maybe the main characters go see a band that just happens to be a major part of the storyline from an entirely different Dessen novel. It’s fun to try to piece together who is in what book (I really wish someone would create a flow chart or something because I’m sure I’ve missed a few)! In any case, it’s a cute way to catch up with characters you may have previously fallen in love with. She never gives any further insight into their lives, but it’s somehow a comfort to know that they are just where you left them, doing exactly what they should be.
6. The issues- She captures the difficulties of real life with hope and humor. Her exquisite writing draws me in, even to stories I may not personally relate to, and she does it all without making it feel like an after-school special. Now that’s a gift.
So to recap: the girl is a genius. We love her (almost as much as we love Wes Baker, from The Truth About Forever. And that’s alot.