Friday, June 30, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

At last, the Door Stop Novels YA Fest has reached its conclusion, and I cannot think of a more fitting author to end with than Sarah Dessen. And quite naturally, there was a great deal of excitement over her latest release, Once and for All, the 13th book in her already impressive collection. I have enjoyed being able to commit my favorite month to my favorite genre, but in July, I must return to giving my other categories some love, starting with some fascinating nonfiction. But first, one last YA novel. 

The Situation: Louna Barrett is once again working with her mother and her business partner, William, as they tackle another season of weddings. While the trio works very hard to give the bride her perfect big day, or as close to perfect as they can get, all of them are somewhat jaded when it comes to happily ever after. Louna's mother, Natalie, has long believed that that part of her life is over. William cannot seem to find a man that makes him want to settle down for a long-term commitment. Louna is only 17 years-old, but even she has experienced enough to know that true love can be hard to come by, and even if she does find it, it can be easily taken away from her.

The Problem: An event like a wedding comes with its own problems. Sometimes the bride and/or groom has cold feet; sometimes the mother of the bride is overbearing; sometimes the bartenders get snippy; sometimes people insist on trying to sit in the front row at the ceremony, even though that is traditionally reserved for family; sometimes the child that is supposed to throw flower petals decides to throw a tantrum instead; and sometimes the annoying ring bearer son is too busy chatting up the cute girl outside to be on time for his mother's wedding. This last one is the case for Ambrose, whom Louna has to physically drag inside. Even though his mother's wedding may be over, his sister's is still to come, and when Natalie decides to hire him in an effort to keep him from driving his sister crazy, Louna now has to deal with him on a nearly daily basis. Even if he was not prone to being distracted by every pretty face he sees, Louna could never consider him as someone to be with. Though it has been a year, she continues to nurse her broken heart over the only boy she has ever loved. But while Louna is determined to remain closed off and alone, while never taking Ambrose seriously, Ambrose is determined to change her mind.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that begins at the end of Louna's senior year of high school, and continues into the summer, which is also the busy wedding season. For much of the novel, the many details that go into making a successful wedding, as well as the things that can make everything can wrong, are discussed and poured over as Natalie, William, and Louna attempt to give the brides what they want, while also maintaining their own sanity. This is no easy task, whether the wedding is a big and grand affair, or a small and intimate event with only a few family and friends. Throughout the book, Louna has to run all sorts of errands, ranging from picking up flowers from the florist, to picking up clowns for a circus-themed wedding after their car breaks down. Her best friend Jilly does her best to make sure her friend maintains the semblance of a normal teenage life by dragging her to parties. But after what happened the previous summer, Louna is genuinely not that interested in looking for someone. And working in the wedding industry does not help her much when it comes to being jaded about love. Ambrose, however, has a decidedly different outlook on life. He may not be big on commitment and the long-term, but he loves the fun beginnings of relationships, and seems to start as many as he can. He is annoying, arrogant, persistent, and seems to take nothing seriously. Still, Louna gets stuck working with him, and even makes a bet that he cannot stay with one girl for a long period of time, while he bets that she could not possibly go on several dates in an attempt to meet people and put herself out there. They are both sure they will win of course, but the bet will have consequences that neither of them saw coming. 

My Verdict: Well, it did not end up becoming my new favorite Dessen novel, which is fine. It would take quite a bit to unseat Along for the Ride. And while Dessen did a great job - like incredibly good - of making Ambrose annoying and hard to like, she also did a great job of making Louna relatable, even if someone has not quite shared her experience of heartache. Some of the aspects of the overall story were hard to get behind, but I will say that I for once enjoyed reading about a mother/daughter relationship that was not incredibly strained and tense. With most Dessen novels, the relationship between the mother and the daughter causes me to wince more than smile. But while Natalie may not be all smiles and cuddles and hot cocoa, she is not so cold or at all neglectful or condescending that she and her daughter do not get along. Not only do Natalie and Louna get along, but they also work well together, which is definitely not true for even some of the closest mother/daughter pairings. This book was certainly a little different (at least to me) than other recent Dessen novels. It also eases up on some of the darkness from Saint Anything, though sometimes it may have eased up a bit too much. But overall, any Dessen fan will enjoy this book. 

Favorite Moment: When Crawford, Jilly's socially awkward and straight-talking brother, lets Louna know what his sister has really been up to.

Favorite Character: As strange of a pick as it may be for a favorite character, I choose Natalie, Louna's mother. Wedding planning is decidedly not easy. But for someone who is pretty jaded when it comes to love, Natalie and her partner William are really good at it. The pair manages to give the bride their big day, while also standing their ground against pushy mothers and cranky guests.

Recommended Reading: Of course I recommend Along for the Ride, but if you are looking for a Dessen novel with more of an edge to it, I recommend Saint Anything or Lock and Key.  

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