Review: Once and for All

Book Written by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen has a niche. Yes, she writes YA, but she specializes in female narrators struggling with emotional honesty. Once and for All is no different. Louna is a jaded 18-year-old working for her mother’s wedding planning business and trying to keep distracted from her own sadness. Self-imposed isolation and denial make her journey a lonely one.

Most Dessen fans will recognize this plot. Many of her books share it in varying forms. I’ve read all 13. Even knowing what to expect with every one of her stories (young woman is trepidatious about love, worsening when she meets some quirky/dangerous/funny/persistent/adorable/charming man, pushing him and everyone away because of SOME. BIG. EVENT. IN. HER. PAST., until she realizes that was then and this is now, and gives him a chance, falling in love, and finally learning to be happy again.

Yet, I continue to read them. Because Sarah Dessen is a lovely writer. Yes, she’s gotten into the bad habit of “calling back” to past characters or businesses in her new books (something I find painfully self-aware), but she still writes each new book with heart.

I liked Once and for All because the characters, like typical Dessen, are well-developed. Ancillary characters provide just enough support, just enough personality, and just enough history with our narrator to drive the plot forward at an easy-to-read-in-a-weekend pace. Plus, a wedding planning setting adds a lot of humor. Who doesn’t love complaining about weddings?

While the plot here was mostly predictable, the characters felt real, which is really what I’m after when diving into a book. I want to believe these are real people I might meet, or have. I want to feel for them, to root for them, and to hate when they make stupid, selfish decisions. I don’t want flowery language to distract from the story. I don’t want four plots competing with each other. I don’t want detailed history for every character.

Dessen knows how to write a book that makes you want to finish it the second you start it. Sure, she has room to “change it up” a bit, in terms of plot, but there’s something comforting about knowing exactly what you’re going to get from an author. She’s like my childhood blanket — warm and soothing.

Rating: 4/5