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I’ve been a longtime fan of Sarah Dessen. Bar JK Rowling, she’s the author that made me fall in love with reading. I got lost in her stories about complicated love, self-doubt and blossoming through hardships. Even as an adult, I still like to re-read her books and get lost in the teeny-bopper love stories.
If you’ve been an Endless Bliss fan for a few years, you’ll know that I got to see Sarah Dessen speak at a panel at the Austin Teen Book Festival after her novel What Happened to Goodbye came out, and I fangirled way too hard. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to meet her, but I still got a signed, personalized copy of her book a couple months later – a birthday gift to myself.
Sarah Dessen’s latest novel, Once and For All, follows a girl named Louna who works at her mom’s wedding planning business, Natalie Barrett Weddings. She’s lived in the wedding business so long and has seen so many marriages come together and fall apart behind the scenes, which is probably a huge contributor to her cynicism toward the industry and the whole idea of marriage in general. When Louna finds what she thinks is her own happy ending and then watches it crumble in the worst way you can imagine, her distaste of love and marriage grows even deeper.
One summer, Louna meets Ambrose, a naturally positive guy and serial dater. When he gets wrapped up in the wedding business too, Louna is determined to hold him at arm’s length, guarding her heart from ever feeling the way it did after the loss of her first love.
My question while reading this entire novel was: Have I outgrown Sarah Dessen? I honestly don’t think so, simply because I still reread her old novels, but this one just did not pique my interest. I usually devour her novels, and this one took me about a month and a half to get through because there was no point where I just felt like I needed to keep reading and turning the pages. The sign of a good novel is one that stresses me out, had me at the edge of my seat and makes me want to stay up late and lose sleep just to finish it. This novel didn’t do any of that at any point. In fact, for a lot of it, I wasn’t bored per say, but I was just content reading it. There was never a time where I prioritized the book over doing anything else, even toward the end.
Once and For All bounced back and forth between present-time and the past. You would think that this would make you more intrigued and leave you on edge to read faster so you can get to what happens faster, but no. There was never a point where I was like that, except one chapter at the end, but that all passed rather quickly.
Louna kind of drove me crazy. I understood that she was upset about her last boyfriend, but at the same time, she just frustrated me. She was probably one of my least favorite characters that Sarah Dessen has ever written. I couldn’t relate to her in any way, and I think that was a huge contributing factor to me not entirely liking the book. Ambrose, on the other hand, was wonderful to a fault. I thought he was a great male lead, and I think Louna’s constant dismissal of him frustrated me and made me dislike her a little bit. I say “to a fault” because while he was charming, thoughtful and sweet at times, he was also pretty selfish. To say in a non-spoiler way, he delayed his mom’s wedding and stole a living thing, and both incidents resulted in zero consequences.
Then there’s Louna’s best friend, Jilly, who I liked because I could relate to her on certain levels. She was an enjoyable character because she was the best friend that Louna needed. She was patient with her, but she also wanted to help her get back on her feet. What I didn’t like about Jilly was that as soon as she got boo’ed up, she completely dismissed Louna. I hate when this happens in real life, and even more so when it happens in books. There was also no character development for Jilly at all nor with any of the other characters apart from the fact that somehow everyone became less cynical about love. Yea…that’s it.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. That’s not to say this was a bad book necessarily, but it’s easily my least favorite Sarah Dessen novel. Let’s just say it won’t be on my list of her books to reread.
For more about Sarah Dessen and her thirteeth novel, Once and For All, check out her official website.
Have you ever read a book by Sarah Dessen? What’s your favorite?