When I was a teenager, lo those many years ago, there were not many choices when it came to Young Adult books. I remember graduating from the children's section at my local library and jumping directly to the adult section because there was nothing in between (except one set of shelves with Sweet Valley High books). As a horse-obsessed girl, I did have the Thoroughbred and Pine Hollow (the same characters as The Saddle Club series) books about the older girls and their horse adventures, but that was about it. Until I discovered two amazing authors - Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen. [Of course I was also growing up during the era of Harry Potter, which was very important to my early years as a bookworm, but that's a story for another time.]
It was Sarah Dessen's Someone Like You that first showed me that stories about teens (girls my age at the time!) were actually worth reading. Although was lucky enough to have found several inspiring writers throughout my teenage years, Sarah Dessen stands out as one of the most important. She's been called the Queen of YA, but more than that I think she helped publishers to pay attention to stories about young women. These days her books are often shelved in the YA Romance section, but I don't see her books that way at all. Sarah Dessen writes about young girls discovering who they are and learning to love, not just boys but also their families and friends.
The most revelatory part of Dessen's storytelling is her focus on her characters' feelings - teenage girls experience just as many complex feelings as everyone else and are not weaker for it, but are able to grow stronger by facing their feelings head on. When I was younger it was so important to me to read about other girls like me, who were confused and struggling to know themselves. Sarah Dessen helped me realised that my feelings aren't frivolous or insipid, they are important to be felt and appreciated for their complexity.
For today's Before Blogging recommendations, I'm going to be sharing my three favourite books by Sarah Dessen. These are the three books I return to again and again - they hold a big part of my heart. Of course I love all of her other books as well, and I recommend each and every one. But these are the ones that have been most important to me over the years.
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
Published: 1998 by Viking, Reissued 2004 by Speak
Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she's carrying his baby, she's devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it'll never break--because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever.
This book is the story of a girl who is used to standing in the shadow of her best friend now trying with finding herself and struggling to help her friend through the hardest time of her life. I connected with Halley immediately when I first read this book and I continue to feel for this character to this day. This book explores female friendship with great feeling and poignancy. It's just so perfect.
Keeping the Moon
Published: 1999 by Viking, Reissued 2004 by Speak
Never underestimate the power of friendship.
When Colie goes to spend the summer at the beach, she doesn't expect much.
But Colie didn't count on meeting Morgan and Isabel.
Through them, she learns what true friendship is all about, and finally starts to realize her potential.
And that just might open the door to her first chance at love...
This is such a gem of a book. Every character is beautiful and unique. The story is one of self-discovery and self-love. It's the first of Sarah Dessen's summer books set in Colby and this version of Colby is quirky and fun, a little rough around the edges and perfect for a summer of first loves and new friendships. This is proper vintage Dessen, so wonderful.
The Truth About Forever
Published: 2004 by Viking, Reissued 2012 by Speak
Expect the unexpected.
Macy's got her whole summer carefully planned.
But her plants didn't include a job at Wish Catering. And they certainly didn't include Wes.
But Macy soon discovers that the things you expect least are sometimes the things you need most.
This is the Sarah Dessen book I find myself returning to the most. It rang so true with me when I first read it in 2004. It takes on grief and family so boldly and honestly. What makes this one especially powerful to me is the focus on the mother-daughter relationship. Dessen never shies away from tackling family in her books and creating real, complicated family relationships is one of her greatest strengths as a writer.
It's been too long since I've re-read these Sarah Dessen favourites. I may have to find a time this year to return to her books - maybe do a read-along here on the blog. If you haven't read any of Sarah Dessen's books, you should definitely change that immediately. Contemporary YA at its best, and she's been doing it for almost two decades.