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Roundtable: Sarah Dessen Novels

October 11th, 2008 (05:27 pm)

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: I Love Lucy score music

Little Willow: Suze and I first met years ago, back when Buffy was slaying vampires on TV on a weekly basis. Our shared interests in books, theatre, and dance have led to many lively discussions, punctuated often with exclamations. We live in two different nations, so we don't get to see each other in person very often, but we keep in touch regularly via electronic mail. We've both had a busy month so far, but between work, rehearsals, and shows, we made time to talk about books by an author we both enjoy: Sarah Dessen. We've discussed her books before - we even made a very special trip together to see her stories on screen - but this is the first time I've gotten Suze to speak up on my blog. Say hi, Suze.

Suze: Hello! I'm very honored to be allowed to have my say on Little Willow's blog! Do bear with me as this is my first time . . .

Little Willow: Okay, let's go!

What was the first book by Sarah Dessen that you ever read? What did you think of it?

Little Willow: Dreamland. It was heavy - appropriately so, but heavy. I am glad that the next Sarah book I read, That Summer, was lighter and countered it. Which book did you read first?

Someone Like You. I can vaguely recall being told in no uncertain terms that I needed to read Sarah Dessen and most importantly to "start with Someone Like You!" It was a very touching story about friendship, and naturally, it sucked me right in. I literally could not put it down until I'd finished it.

What was the second Sarah Dessen book you read?

Little Willow:
That Summer, Dessen's debut. I then read the rest of her novels in order of publication. At that point, That Lullaby was her newest book.

Suze: Also That Summer, incidentally. However, I didn't quite stick to the order of publication - pretty close though.

Which Dessen novel is your favorite? Why?

Little Willow: Poignant and realistic, The Truth About Forever is my favorite Sarah Dessen book. I loved how Macy and Wes challenged each other to be more truthful and honest with themselves.

Suze: I hate this question because it always leads to a very long and painful argument in my head. I'd have to say it's a tie between This Lullaby and the Truth About Forever. Of course, I also love Just Listen and Keeping the Moon . . . Then I have a soft spot for Someone Like You... See what I mean? I'll refrain from going into detail about why I love each and every one. For now, anyway.

Favorite character? Why?

Suze: Another difficult question to answer. My favorite female character would have to be Remy from This Lullaby because of her incredible sense of self. She hasn't had the easiest life and shes definitely made a ton of mistakes, but yet in the end she came out on top and she did it by herself, I find her strength and independence admirable. My favorite male character would be Wes from The Truth About Forever for a lot of the same reasons, plus the whole 'sa-woon' thing didn't hurt his case either! You?

Little Willow: I really liked Remy as well. She was independent and headstrong, like I am, and I understood why she was determined to rely on no one but herself. I really enjoyed the conversations that Macy and Wes had in The Truth About Forever. They founded their relationship on honesty, and as they learned more about each other, they also learned more about themselves.

Suze: I agree. I can't think of a better way to really get to know someone. Of course, they would have to tell the truth, and I've noticed that honesty seems to be harder to come by these days.

Little Willow: Honesty is the best policy. I am a huge fan of honesty.

Suze: Me too! After Owen's teachings in Just Listen, I have really made an effort to be more honest and tell less of the little white lies that most people tell on a daily basis. Of course, this can get me in a bit of hot water on occasion - so it's a bit of a work-in-progress!

What do you think of the way Dessen connects all of her books? Do you prefer recurring characters or subtle cameos?

Suze: I absolutely love the way her characters often return for Cameo's in future books. It's always nice to read a little about what happened afterwards, yet she never lets an appearance of a former character take away from the actual theme or story of the book. Although, sometimes, I find myself wishing that she would get carried away and go more into detail about what has happened to any given character - but I know it probably take away from the story she's trying to tell. Still, it's nice to read about them, kind of like seeing an old friend after a long time apart... What do you think, LW?

Little Willow: I like musing on the theory of six degrees of separation, so I enjoy the fact that Dessen has chosen to connect her stories without making them direct sequels or a series. I like the subtle cameos. I especially liked the appearance of Wes and Macy in Just Listen. Without being named or involved in the story, just simply described as two other people in the restaurant, longtime Dessen fans instantly knew who they were while new readers thought nothing of it. I wanted to make Rogerson go far, far away from Ruby in Lock and Key, which is understandable, since I wanted him to go far, far away from Caitlin in Dreamland. (Can you tell yet that I'm anti-drug?) On a happier note, Suze, what did you think about the band that reappeared in Just Listen?

Suze: I loved it! It was wonderful to know that Truth Squad was plaing at Bento once again, and I was even more pleased that 'music-buff' Owen approved of thier music. It was also equally nice to have Remy there and that little exchange with Dexter and his cell phone was adorable! I was so dissapointed when Annabelle ran out and never got the opportunity to hear the Potato Song.

Now for a shared experience: Our trip to the movie theatre to see How to Deal on opening night.

Suze: Ah, that was good times! I remember anxiously waiting for it to come out, and being slightly disappointed that I would be on vacation and unable to see it. Then you suggested going and made it very easy for me to hop a bus...

Little Willow: ...and after a long workday, we met at the bookstore and then went to the theatre. I was excited for the movie, which combined two of Dessen's books, That Summer and Someone Like You. Sadly, my excitement turned into disappointment. The movie took the main character from one book and gave her the family from the other book, downplayed Halley's extremely close friendship with Scarlett, and changed her relationship with Macon. It added in things that were supposed to be funny but which I didn't find particularly humorous, and it did not have any of my favorite moments from the books. What did you think, Suze?

Suze: My thoughts on the movie were very similar to yours. Scarlett's character was portrayed completely differently - she was more like a lovesick ditz than the character that I loved in the book. Then I was absolutely horrified when Halley abandoned her best friend while she was in labor - to go make up with Macon. I thought that your announcement at the end was very accurate. Do you remember what you said to everyone in the theatre?

Little Willow: I believe I said something like, "Read the books. The books are better." Is that right?

Suze: Yes, it was definitely something along those lines. I often wondered if anyone actually went out and read the books afterwards.

Little Willow: I hope so - and I hope that people reading this post will go read the books now, too!

Related Posts at Bildungsroman:  
Author Spotlight: Sarah Dessen
Interview: Sarah Dessen
Roundtable: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Playlist: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
They Tried to Ban This Book Today, or, There's a Sticker on the Cover of This Book: Reacting to the Challenge of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Tune In:
Watch Sarah Dessen and Melissa Walker on readergirlz TV


Posted by: Shari Green (sharigreen)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)

Loved this roundtable - thanks!

The Truth About Forever is my fave of Dessen's novels so far (but I love them all! she's definitely one of my favourite YA authors).

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 01:16 am (UTC)

Thank you so much for reading our roundtable!

Posted by: Aurora (kilmata)
Posted at: October 13th, 2008 03:22 am (UTC)

Yes! Thanks! (Im Suze BTW) :)

Posted by: Heidi R. Kling, Author of SEA, June 10, 2010 (seaheidi)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC)

I think Wes is my favorite Sarah Dessen boy character, but Owen is a close second.

Not that you asked.

I just felt like sharing. =D

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)

Oh, but we did ask! I love feedback, and I post these roundtables to get others talking about good books.

Wes is a good guy.

Posted by: Heidi R. Kling, Author of SEA, June 10, 2010 (seaheidi)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)

Did you?

Well then, so happy I delivered. =)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)


Posted by: mandyhubbard (mandyhubbard)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)

I had a hard time with Dessen's DREAMLAND. It really made me wonder if she had ever been close to an abusive relationship-- herself, or anyone near her--beucase I felt like the abuser was very one dimensional. He was controlling and angry, and there was nothing sympathetic about him.

In real life, the abusers are often completely lost and so tragically flawed, that they can't seem to save themselves from fulfilling the same destiny as their abusive parents.

I'm not saying its excuseable--but it makes a lot more sense as to why a girl ends up with a guy who is so abusive-- you see in them something you want desperately to save/change. Whereas the love interest in dreamland seemed completely and entirely a mean jerk, with very little underlying vulnerability. It ws a big reason why I ended up writing SHATTERED, my first (and only) attempt at something more literary. It should be intersting to see whether or not my project ends up geting picked up, given how manypeople truly love DREAMLAND, and how much my project contrasts with it.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 06:24 am (UTC)

I am so anti-alcohol and anti-drugs that, from the second Caitlin saw all of that going on at the party, I recoiled. I pulled back. I wanted her OUT. OF. THERE. And they weren't even in a relationship yet. I already knew Rogerson was going to be abusive - the book's summary implied it, and reviews gave it away - and that the abuse would be difficult for me to read. It was. I am grateful that I'd never been in that situation and sympathetic to those who have been.

My favorite parts of Dreamland are how it opens and closes. Not to diminish anything that happens in the middle - and not to give anything away for lurkers reading the comments right now - but I like it when stories have a definite reason to start when they do, a reason for readers to become involved in the story from day one, and then a sense of closure.

Best wishes with Shattered.

Oh, and I think I have an email from you! Thank you! I'm playing catch-up with email tomorrow. :)

Posted by: boothyisawesome (boothyisawesome)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)

Loved this roundtable! :)

I did however enjoy How to Deal, but then again, I have yet to read the books that they were based on. I've only read Dessen's two most recent novels, but do have That Summer in my TBR pile. So perhaps once I read both books, I'll go back and watch the movie. Although the main reason I even bought the DVD was just so I could watch the YA Books featurette they had on there, lol.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)

Read them. Read them.

Posted by: mimagirl (mimagirl)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
i could've danced

Oh, this was fun to read! Thanks, Suze and LW!
Really makes me want to read another Sarah Dessen book...so far I've only read Just Listen and Lock and Key. The former was my favorite of the two.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 12th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)

Thanks for reading our discussion!

I do hope you'll pick up (and enjoy) other titles.

Posted by: Aurora (kilmata)
Posted at: October 13th, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)

Yes! Thankyou!

I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Posted by: Christine Fletcher (cmfletcher)
Posted at: October 13th, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)

Great discussion. The Truth About Forever is so far my favorite Dessen novel...but after reading this, This Lullaby is high up on my TBR list!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 13th, 2008 04:21 pm (UTC)

Thank you for reading our post! Truth is my favorite as well, but This Lullaby is my second favorite. Enjoy it.

Posted by: novel_tee (novel_tee)
Posted at: October 17th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)

I love this roundtable. Well, I love all things Sarah Dessen. Truth probably edges out This Lullaby, but then I remember how much I love This Lullaby, and it goes back and forth. And then I remember how no one talks that much about Keeping the Moon and I loved Norman and Colie, Mira, and FlyKiki...It's a wonderful dilemma to be in.

I was really disappointed with How to Deal, too. I mean, I rented it, but I just felt like there was such great material to work with, and the movie just turned it into crap. And why would you change Macon's last name? Macon and Faulkner go together like Jordan and Catalano.

I must admit, though, I haven't been able to really love a Sarah Dessen novel since Truth, since that was all kinds of awesomeness...It's like a curse that I have. Lock and Key focused too much on, you know, the lock and key. Truth was more subtle. But I am anxiously awaiting her next book, Along for the Ride. The one sentence summary just sounds perfect: an 18-year-old high school graduate befriends a fellow insomniac, and together they explore their small town by night.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 17th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)

Thank you for the detailed feedback and responses!

We share favorites, then, with Truth and This. Your second paragraph reminded me a great deal of Suze's response!

"Macon and Faulkner go together like Jordan and Catalano." - That's hilarious. Remember Jordan's band and Rayanne's performance (attempt)? "We're between names."

If you like the sound of Along for the Ride, also try Paper Towns by John Green and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan.

Posted by: novel_tee (novel_tee)
Posted at: October 18th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)

I love My So-Called Life, even if grunge was in before I could even read. I think they actually introduced Jordan's band as "Between Names."

When I read the synopsis for Along for the Ride, I kind of thought of Nick & Norah, which I've already read, but I couldn't get into that much. It was a good read, but there was really too much unncessary cursing. Not all young people throw a curse word in every sentence or thought.

But I also thought of the scene in This Lullaby when Remy catches a cab after the wedding and sees Dexter walking by himself back home. There's a line in there that I really love about Remy feeling like they were the only two people awake in the world at that moment. And it also reminded me of Marcus showing Jess the five(?) wonders of Pineville, so roll all those things into one, and I have really high hopes for this book.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 18th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)

Yes, yes, they did introduce them that way! I liked that exchange. I didn't watch MSCL regularly, however.

I'm actually working on a piece about cursing in juvenile and teen fiction. I don't curse at all.

Dexter is fun. I think he'd get along well with Charlie from Little Friendly Advice and Parker from The Bermudez Triangle.

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