By Sarah Dessen
Available now from Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
A.J. Jacobs can try to dub realistic YA novels "GreenLit" all he likes; those of us who actually read the genre know DessenLit would be more accurate. Sarah Dessen is one of the queens of the genre, and she didn't get there by writing bad books. THE MOON AND MORE isn't one of her more romantic novels, but Emaline is a memorable heroine with an absorbing story.
(Please note that the above paragraph is not a knock on John Green. I love his novels too.)
Emaline is highly competent and not very flexible. She likes to be sensible and orderly. She's a terrific student and an asset to her family's business, Colby Realty. But it's her last summer before college and she's not feeling so orderly inside. Her absent biological father inspired her to dream bigger, and she did. She got into an Ivy. But she can't afford it. Now something she didn't really want has been torn from her and she's still feeling the loss. And her relationship with long-time boyfriend Luke isn't seeming so solid. Emaline's not where she expected to be. At the same time, she's not sure where she wants to be. Small town? Big city?
I think Emaline's inner conflict really resonates. She's got family trouble, guy trouble, but most of all she's dealing with moving on in her life and growing older. And we all have to move on and grow older. But I have to say, my favorite part of the book was her younger brother Benji. I just wanted to take him home and let him do fun things. I loved Emaline's relationship with him, because Benji needs someone on his side.
I also liked how Dessen managed the romantic aspects. There's Luke, Emaline's old boyfriend, and Theo, the new guy in town to help a famous documentarian. It's not quite a love triangle; Emaline is never with both guys at the same time. But Dessen definitely took the romantic relationships places I didn't expect. (Mostly because I was expecting a straightforward romantic plot.)
Okay, the family is great too. Emaline's problem isn't that her family is awful. They're a perfectly normal family. But people in perfectly normal families drive each other batty all the time. There is a particularly big personality clash between Emaline and her oldest sister, mostly because they're more alike than they realize.
Dessen's books are giant helpings of comfort food, and THE MOON AND MORE is no exception. Emaline's bildungsroman is perfect beach reading, especially for Dessen's fans who want to return to the town of Colby. Dessen will be signing at the West Houston Community Center tomorrow, sponsored by the Blue Willow Bookshop. I haven't decided whether I'm going yet, but if I do, I hope to see my fellow Houstonites there.