Tue
Jun 6 2017 2:00pm

First Look: Sarah Dessen’s Once and For All (June 6, 2017)

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen
Once and For All
Viking Books for Young Readers / June 6, 2017 / $19.99 print, $10.99 digital

For those of you who grew up reading Sarah Dessen’s books—her first book, That Summer was published over twenty years ago—you know that she writes exquisite stories around present-day issues. If you need your memory refreshed, check out Class of 2012: A Superlative Sarah Dessen.

For those who missed her books, you really need to try them, especially if you’re reading women’s fiction now. Because Louna is dealing with disillusionment about love and happily-ever-afters brought about by her mother’s and godfather’s attitude toward love; her own first-hand observations as she viewed brides and grooms vow “til death do us part,” only to divorce a couple of years after their weddings; and her own tragic experience with love.

On the one hand, I lived and breathed the wedding dream, dragged along to ceremonies and venues, privy to meetings on every excruciating detail from Save the Date cards to cake toppers. But away from the clients and the work, there was a constant, repetitive commentary about how it was a sham, no good men really existed, and we were all better off alone. It was no wonder that a few years earlier, when my best friend Jilly had suddenly gone completely boy-crazy, I'd been reluctant to join her. I was a fourteen-year-old-girl with the world-weariness of a bitter mid-life divorcee, repeating all the things I'd heard over and over like a mantra. “Well, he'll only disappoint you, so you should expect it,” I'd say, shaking my head as she texted with some thick-necked soccer player. Or I'd warn: “Don't give what you're not ready to lose.”...

Because this theme is one that is often used in romance novels and women’s fiction, there’s an ageless quality to the book, making it easy to forget that you’re reading about teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. Truly, this book is a perfect introduction to a super-talented author.

I’ve written two First Looks on her books. In my First Look at Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More, I stated:  

Many of Sarah Dessen’s readers, like myself, have long left behind their coming of age years. But even if the problems her characters face are no longer relevant to my life, the lessons they learn always seem so meaningful and far-reaching. That is one reason Ms. Dessen’s books have such a widespread appeal.

But most engaging to me is Ms. Dessen’s talent in creating multi-dimensional characters—drawn with strokes of realism and authenticity.

In my First Look at Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything, I wrote:

I rarely venture into Young Adult books, but I make an exception for the very talented Sarah Dessen. Her plots are relevant to today’s issues—you could almost borrow Law and Order’s tagline: taken from today’s headlines, for her books. Dessen’s characters are so vividly created—their actions and emotions so genuinely authentic—that it almost seems that Dessen has a psychological advantage in understanding our human condition. Her characters make sense—their actions make sense, and the emotions they feel just seem appropriate. 

So, in writing the First Look on For Once and for All, it's almost like wash, rinse, and repeat, because the same goes: Wonderful characters; meaningful and far-reaching lesson; realism and authenticity and universal appeal. Of course, I sure don't mind saying these things again because this is a great novel! 

If you have read her books before, then you know that some are darker than others. While the heroine’s tragic past governs her current actions and beliefs, the book has a lighthearted feel to it too. Part of that is due to the scenes written around the hero. Truly, Ambrose Little is a delight. 

“People never believe me when I tell them this,” Ambrose replied, folding his arms on the table. “But I’m not trying to annoy her. She’s just very sensitive.”

“You really think that’s the issue?” my mother asked.

He nodded, somber. “Always has been.”

“I heard your mother sent you here because she was so frustrated with dealing with you.”

“True,” he agreed. “And I wrecked her car. But in my defense, she is also very sensitive. I think it’s a genetic thing.”

Oh, for God’s sake, I thought, fighting the urge to roll my eyes. Of course it was everyone else’s fault. Next he’d blame the tape dispenser. My mother, however, smiled at him, clearly amused. “Did I hear Bee say you need a job?”

“That’s what I’m told,” he replied.

“You’re told?”

“It’s actually more of an ultimatum,” he admitted.

“Apparently I am both annoying and expensive.”

Instead of replying, my mom just studied him, one hand twisting the diamond necklace she wore every day. I didn’t like the look on her face even before she said, “How about this: you work for me this summer, and I’ll take your wages off my fee, which your mother is paying.”

So, this is how it came about that Louna Barrett must deal with an annoying co-worker. At first, she honestly thought her mother had lost her mind—it was so out of character. However, her mother spills on the real reason she offered Ambrose a job: He’s causing so much havoc at home that his mother offered Natalie Barrett Weddings, her mother’s business, a bonus if Natalie would keep Ambrose busy. 

Louna should get hazard pay, since she is the one that is showing Ambrose the ropes. A simple trip to pick-up flowers for a wedding turns into a kidnapping:

I was just reaching forward to change the radio station (now an addiction for both of us, clearly) when the passenger door suddenly opened again and he tumbled inside. “Go,” he said. He was holding something in his arms.

“What?”

”Go. Drive. Now!”

It was only after I shifted into reverse again, for some reason blindly following this directive, that I looked over and saw that what he was clutching was, in fact, the dog.

“Ambrose. You stole that man’s dog?”

“I prefer to look at it as a rescue” he corrected me as it wriggled wildly in my side vision.

Ambrose and Louna are so sweet together. He brings a much-needed levity into her life and she challenges him to become more responsible. Although Louna doesn’t always see it that way. On the surface, she considers him a gnat—annoying and bothersome.

Ambrose patted the seat beside him. “Come on, honey. Time for our close-up.”

I looked at my mother, who held up ten fingers, symbolizing the hundred bucks I’d been promised for going through with this. It was not enough. Still, I sat down.

“Okay,” the photographer said, squatting sown and lifting the camera. “Now, let’s have the groom open the book and hold it in his lap. Louna, lean into him and point to something on the page.” . . .

“And Ambrose, shift your hand so we can see the ring on Louna’s finger a bit better. It’s just so pretty!”

“Three months' salary,” he told her, insisting, still, on being in character. “But my baby deserved a rock!”

My mom, who was the actual owner of this ring, snorted.

William said, “You guys actually look really cute together, if you don’t mind me saying."

I was about to tell him that, in fact, I did, when Ambrose moved in closer behind me, his mouth right at my ear. “FYI, your tag is sticking out. Let me get it. It’s what a fiancé would do.”

A second later, I felt his fingers on the small of my back, smoothing down the fabric of my dress there. And the weirdest, craziest thing happened: I felt something. That unmistakable, sudden rush of feeling when your body responds to a touch in that certain, specific way.

Against the always appealing backdrop of wedding planning, you’ll be charmed, delighted, and pleased as Dessen marvelously convinces the cynics in this book that true love is real.   

***

Learn more about or order a copy of Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, available now:

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Scarlettleigh, blogger.

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