YA Friday: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Friday, May 13, 2011

Title: This Lullaby
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA
Publisher: Speak, 2002
Source: Bought at Barnes and Noble when I was in high school. At least seven years ago. Never read it until now!

Remy has a method for relationships - get started, have some fun, and then cut it off neatly before anyone gets hurt. For her last summer before college starts, she intends to do just that. She has successfully planned her mother's fifth wedding, excelled in her studies, and partied hard with her friends. Now she's just going to float through the summer, if a totally anal neat freak with an ulcer can be said to float. However, she hasn't planned for Dexter, the curly-haired, sloppy musician who decides they're meant to be together after meeting her eyes across a car dealership. Remy is about to have all her rules thrown in the air and learn a valuable lesson about relationships in the process.

I can't remember why I never read this book. I bought it on a whim at Barnes and Noble, probably close to when it came out when I was in high school. I just liked the cover, and it was in the YA section (indicating that it must have been early high school, because I mostly only read adult fiction in high school. I only read YA now that I'm technically an adult. I refuse to conform to my reading level! Okay, end of brief aside). So I bought it and promptly forgot about it. It has only been since my relatively recent (less than a year) entrance into the book blogging community that I heard about Sarah Dessen again, seeing her name all over the many YA lovers' book blogs. When I saw The Reading Housewives of Indiana's post about Sarah Dessen week, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to read one of those bought-but-unread books lurking on my shelves.

I think what really set Sarah Dessen apart from other YA writers I've read was the reality of her writing. This isn't the case with all YA writers, but often I feel like YA 1st person narrators have a whimsical or slightly immature quality to them. Remy felt like an intelligent but believable teen. The events she wrote about were not "normal" - most people don't have romance novelists for mothers or famous songs written about them by their one-hit-wonder musician fathers. But Remy acted the way a normal teenager would act. Her personality was strong but not obnoxious or over the top. The minor characters were also well-rendered. Each of Remy's friends, Lissa, Chloe, and Jess, were vivid and distinct, with their own quirks - Lissa can't go without a pack of skittles, Chloe is a diva with romantic views similar to Remy, and Jess is sassy but mature, always the designated driver.

And of course, the boys. I'd heard about Sarah Dessen's wonderful boys (made even more wonderful by the fact that they are not vampires, werewolves, or any other supernatural creature) and Dexter did not disappoint. He was odd and even occasionally annoying, but generally charming, witty, and sweet. The way he interacted with Remy made me a little giddy for high school days, when a boy putting his hand on my waist would render me completely off balance. He is certainly not the cookie-cutter Prince Charming, but he managed to sweep me off my feet (in a literary way).

I was very impressed with Dessen's way of knowing which scenes to include and which to leave out. Instead of telling us a long story from start to finish, she gives us snapshots, much like the little snatches of story that Dexter finds in the pictures at Flash Photo. Dessen doesn't give all the gory details - instead Remy describes certain the most relevant and illustrative events of the summer and leaves some things to the imagination. Dessen also uses Remy's reminiscences and inner musings to not only narrate a story but unveil certain aspects of Remy's personality and family life without explicitly drawing attention to them. For example, while shopping with her roommate Lissa for dorm supplies, Remy absentmindedly buys some plastic utensils for Dexter because there aren't enough at his house. This seems like a fairly innocuous act. However, if you are acquainted with Remy, you come to understand the significance of this act. Dessen doesn't come out and say, "This is a significant Turning Point for Remy." She just describes what happens, but the significance is crystal clear. In a similar manner, Dessen weaves all kinds of meanings and life lessons into Remy's experiences without hanging a huge sign over them saying, "Here is a Moral. This is the Point of the story." Remy has the experiences and then reflects a little, slowly teasing out the meaning. To me this seems so much more realistic and palatable. This is how we, as human beings, figure out our own lives - not with foreshadowing and literary symbolism, but with little experiences that build up to perceptions and meaning.

I think Dessen is a fantastic writer. Although I didn't always relate to the story (I think probably due to the combined factors of not-being-a-teenager and never-having-partied) I never failed to recognize Dessen's skill. That alone is sufficient to convince me to try another of her books.

3.75 stars

Warnings for the sensitive reader: a few F-bombs and other swears, some casual references to sex, teen partying


  1. I still can't believe I haven't read any of Dessen's books - I've heard so much about them, and the local store had a huge table set aside for all of her books. Couldn't believe how many of them there were!

  2. @Coffee and a Book Chick - This one was a lot of fun! I've heard that many of her books intersect with each other in little ways which makes me want to read more of them. I hardly know where to start after this one!


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