At first blush, this may sound like your typical "opposites attract" romantic storyline, but there's more to this book than meets the eye. Louna's backstory is layered, revealed slowly, and handled well. I won't spoil it in this review, as I want to readers to discover it on their own, but Sarah, if you're reading this: well done.
As in many Dessen stories, the protagonist has a best friend with an energy and story different from her own. Here, we have Jilly, the eldest of five, who burst into Louna's life years ago when they became neighbors. Jilly's household is chaotic but happy: her parents are very much in love and run a successful food truck business, and though Jilly often has to take care of her younger siblings, she rarely complains. Jilly wants Louna to live life.
Louna and her mother have a very good relationship. They like each other, and they like working together. It was nice to read a story with a happy family dynamic as well as a good work ethic. Natalie and her business partner, William, are very good at what they do. They are very professional and their business has a wonderful, well-earned reputation. They are also fun. Whether it's guessing how long the newly-married couple will stay together or simply chatting about life, their conversations are punctuated with laughter and gentle teasing, and it's clear that they are best friends, good friends, who care about and support one another.
I don't normally gravitate towards stories in which romance is the main storyline. I know that most books, TV shows, and movies that start with two characters disliking each other will probably end up with those characters getting together, and while I have plenty of friends who enjoy the "hate turns to love" type of story, that's not something I'm drawn to. I prefer stories/characters with balanced storylines, where romance might be part of the story, but not the sole focus, where friendships and hobbies and interests and abilities are just as important. I enjoy Sarah Dessen's writing, and I like the world she's created. So while others may like the fact that many a Dessen book ends with a kiss, I like the fact that they end with hope: her protagonists tend to land on their feet and emerge with a new and positive outlook on the world, and, in that final sentence, they are looking forward to the future.
If you liked Once and For All and would like to read more novels set the summer between high school and college, check out my Transition Times booklist.
To read my reviews of all of Sarah Dessen's novels to date, check out my Author Spotlight: Sarah Dessen.