Published June 6th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
When handsome, charming, scatterbrained Ambrose comes to work for her mother, Louna is indignant at the number of women he juggles; he is appalled by her refusal to socialize at all. They make a bet: Louna will go on a series of dates while Ambrose will attempt a long-term relationship with one woman. But in the end, it is Ambrose himself that Louna falls for—exactly what Ambrose intended
It's not that I don't like Dessen's books. I generally do. But her characters typically lead lives that are so different from mine, it's always a weird experience actually reading said books. The reading process ends up feeling like a borderline anthropological study, verses reading for enjoyment.
With that in mind, let's dig into her latest, Once and For All.
Broadly speaking, the book is thoughtful, charming and sweet. It has weddings! Challenging boys! A strong but vulnerable heroine, who is suffering from previous heartbreak, that has made her doubt and feel cynical about the world! There's also a random romance-related bet! It all sounds really, really good on paper, right?
And it is. Sort of. Yes, I really did enjoy the book for all of the previously listed factors factors. Dessen has an innate ability to hit on the specific note of uncertainty that people feel, where their problems feel like they are loaded with the weight of the world, but have relatively conquerable solutions just waiting on the edge of the horizon. Her books are the embodiment of a bildungsroman, and readers of all ages will understand that endless feeling of wanting answers from the world, and feeling like you have forever to get those answers.
But with that being said, I couldn't help but think repeatedly while reading: "...say what?" and "Ok, but how did that turn into such a first world problem?"
Without giving spoilers away, it felt like Dessen tried too hard to give the book and Louana, a certain gravitas vis-a-vis a single event. Because of what I do for my day job, I had trouble buying the event the way it was written. It subsequently impacted my ability to take Louana seriously as a character, and also eroded my ability to buy any burgeoning growth she was supposed to be developing with Ambrose.
I also haven't read enough Dessen books to make a definitive judgement, but the male love interests in the books I've read are generally written in a way that bug me to no end. They're quirky or challenging, or some weird hybrid of both. They behave in a way that make me think of a Dawson's Creek character - yes, I'm dating myself - verses an actual living, breathing human being, and Ambrose was no different. It really felt like he checked off certain Dessen-quirk boxes, and ended up mildly perplexing me, more than anything.
Ultimately, Once and For All was an easy, breezy read, but not an especially memorable book for me. It's what my coworker would define as "brain candy" for me - sweet, but not something I'd be especially interested in visiting often, for fear of cavities.
But then again: that's just me. Have you read Once and For All? What do you think? Am I wildly wrong? Let me know in the comments.
About the author:
Sarah Dessen is one of the most popular writers for young adults. She is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many novels, which have received numerous awards and rave reviews, and have sold more than nine million copies. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, Jay, and their daughter, Sasha Clementine. Visit her online at sarahdessen.com.