In the past two years, I’ve read pretty much everything Sarah Dessen has ever written. And I can’t really say that I’ve done that because I’m a huge fan of her writing or her stories. I think what makes me keep going back to her books is the little universe she’s created for her books. Like Stephen King (seriously, I just compared Sarah Dessen to Stephen King), these books take place in a very specific place — usually at the beach in North Carolina — and the same characters and places show up over and over again, like little book “easter eggs”. I kind of enjoy seeing how it all ties together.
I also like knowing that her heroines are real girls with real problems. Not everyone is beautiful and rich. In this book, just because you are smart enough to get into the college of your dreams doesn’t mean you can go there. These girls have to figure things out and realize early on that sometimes life isn’t 100% fair (and I mean this in a good way).
But there’s also a lot that I don’t really like about Dessen’s world. Very few of her strong female characters have much of a relationship with their parents (mostly, the dad is at fault). In this book, the adoptive father was great, but the birth dad? Moron. I couldn’t buy what Dessen was selling with that character.
In a nutshell, this one is about a recent high school graduate named Emaline who lives in the beach town that Dessen loves so much with her mom, stepdad, and two step sisters. They all work at a real estate firm that rents out beach houses to those who are much more wealthy than they are. Emaline has a lovely boyfriend named Luke, who she has been with since the start of high school. And she has minimal contact with her birth father and his family in Connecticut.
And so, in this last summer at home, Emaline has to deal with college choices, her real dad, and boyfriend troubles. She meets a new guy — Theo, a filmmaker from New York who is in town making a documentary about a local artist — who seems to be everything Emaline has always wanted in a boyfriend. But is he?
Look, this book isn’t going to win the Pulitzer or any other prize, but you could do worse. Dessen has a breezy writing style that makes the book go by quickly. I enjoy the tertiary characters that she comes up with, and I have to say, the ending of this one surprised me a bit (in a good way). I’ll keep reading them if she keeps writing them.