Why Sarah Dessen?

January 03, 2011

You’ve seen her covers right?  Those sugary sweet soft pastel covers that whisper to you about the guy next door.  As a reader of mostly paranormal, if I read about the “normal” it better smother me in heart breaking, love crushing relationship or I’m not interested.

Several times I’ve found myself gravitating to one of those covers but after reading the back I’d think, eh, maybe next time.  A good friend of mine’s neighbor had a garage sale and my friend purchased two Sarah Dessen books from the teenage daughter because she knew “I LOVED teenage books.”  Ahem, “Young Adult,” I corrected her (after I crawled out from under the rock and gladly accepted her garage sale finds.)  Then added, looking down my nose at the books (to hide my humiliation for the love of teen.), “Sarah Dessen.  Not an author I typically read but I check it out.”  Six months later I did just that.

Honestly I had nothing else to read so I sat down and tried “Lock and Key” (then later read “Just Listen.”)  I’ll have to say the back cover really didn’t draw me in, neither did the first 100 pages (very slow build.)  But I chose to keep reading her book to determine why they were so popular.  By the time I got to the end, I found my answer, or answers. 
  1. No smut.  Some kissing scenes but they are very brief.  (Moms will approve.)
  2. Though sex is in the books, it’s implied not described.
  3. There is light cussing (the basic hell, shit, damn) but nothing offensive.
  4. Her stories are very realistic with a simple happy ending. 
  5. Everybody wants to fall in love with the hunky boy next door, right? (Or girl next door.) 
Will I be reading more of her books?  Probably not.  Though Sarah Dessen is an excellent writer who can truly tap into the teenage life, her stories are a little soft for my tastes.  For the most part I didn’t find myself wanting to turn the page to find out more (like my action paced, paranormal books do) but I did anyway to answer my big question.  By the end of each book I appreciated her slow pace because it built a strong foundation for each character.  (A lesson learned for this writer.)  You really knew them as if they were your own sister or friend or neighbor.  Characters I found myself loving and kind of missing long after the story was over.  Eventually I realized her stories just stick with you better than super glue, and that’s Why Sarah Dessen.

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  1. I have picked these books up many times myself, but have never read them. Thanks for telling us why. ;)

  2. I totally agree with what you say about her books. I've tried to read two and I just can't finish because they're so slow. I may try again.

  3. Catherine - you know I'm not sure I would have read them if it weren't for my friend.

    Lisa - I forced myself past the slow beginning for research purposes as a writer. I wanted to know why Sarah Dessen was so popular with teens and now I know.

  4. So I don't know where I've been. I've never seen these books. But thanks for telling us about them.

    I have several friends who write romantic YA and would eat these up. :)

  5. I love, love, love Sarah Dessen...but I also discovered her when I was even younger than her narrators.

    Her strength is character development, to be sure, and not necessarily heart-racing plot development. But when I was a young teen, I was looking to read girls I related to, secondary characters who I could be friends with, and looking for guys who might really exist (i.e. no one has magical powers).

    It's really interesting to read why someone isn't that into her writing. I write contemporary non-spec, but fortunately I have paranormal and fantasy writers as crit partners. I've gotta work to keep their attention!

  6. I completely see the draw for wanting real people to relate to and possibly fall in love with. Sometimes I'm in that type of mood but mostly I want the classic Hollywood ending: boy girl fall madly in love, villain gets their just due and all while saving the word with one hand tied behind your back.

    I find non-paranormal books a bit slow for me with a few exceptions The summer I turned pretty by Jenny Han is one example of normal that I LOVED! Because I related to the heartache of a unrequited crush.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love hearing what makes you want to read her stuff. They are definite qualities in my book too.


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