Sarah Dessen is a name that teen novel lovers are well aware of. Her contemporary novels, which are always stand-alone books, often tell the story of a boy and a girl, with some family and friend drama thrown in, that often takes place over the summer. Dessen’s voice captures the aches and pains of high school and adolescence so perfectly; her heroines are easy to relate to and their voices ring with universal truths oftentimes.
In honour of her Along for the Ride movie adaptation being released on Netflix on May 6th, I wanted to review some of my favourite Sarah Dessen books. And there are a lot! I’ve read her books as a teenager myself, and even though I’m far from my teens now, her novels are still found on my bookshelves to this day, ready to be taken out when I need the comforting voice of an old friend.
Auden is visiting her dad for the summer, for the first time in awhile, after her parents’ messy divorce. She hasn’t slept at night since the divorce and spends nights roaming the quaint beach town that her dad and his new family live in. One night she meets Eli and he takes her on a whirlwind adventure of things to do when the whole world is sleeping.
While this isn’t my favourite Dessen novel, I really loved the relationship Auden built with her dad and her stepmother. I also really liked the focus on friendship in this one, as Auden learns how to make friends and keep them. Can’t wait for the movie!
Annabelle is a girl who had everything, before it all changed in a day. Now her friends have dropped her and she’s worried about her anorexic sister. She’s seen Owen around school, a former bad boy who now insists on always telling the truth, but she’s never been friends with him. Until now.
This is probably one of my favourite Dessen novels. It’s one of the few ones that takes place in the school year, and I loved the tensions between Annabelle and her so-called friends. Her relationship with her sister and the rest of her family is interesting and complex. She’s so used to being the perfect daughter, especially in the wake of her sister’s health issues, that she’s petrified of disappointing her parents, even though she wants different things now.
Ruby has been living in an old farmhouse for several days without her mother, when her landlord discovers her. She’s sent to protective services before finally getting sent to live with the sister she hasn’t seen in years and whom she thought abandoned her. Once she starts living at Cora’s house (temporarily, as she keeps on insisting), she has a hard time adjusting to the life of privilege and ease her sister and her husband keep throwing at her. She makes friends with the boy next door, Nate, who ends up having his own secrets as well. But Ruby still refuses to put down roots until she learns the truth about her past with her mother and sister.
This is probably one of the darker of Dessen’s novels. It deals with issues of substance abuse, abusive and toxic parents, and abandonment. But I love the depth of Lock and Key and the way that Ruby really grows and flourishes. She goes from someone who keeps everything locked up inside of her to someone who learns to let go and make friends. But it’s not easy. Her relationships with her mother and Cora are fascinating ones and Dessen does a really good job at demonstrating how the people we love can hurt us so deeply. I’m itching to reread this right now!
I’ve mentioned three of Sarah Dessen’s novels, but there are actually seven more! In Dessen’s novels, the boys are cute, and the girls’ lives are full of drama. At the surface Dessen’s novels may seem frothy and fluffy, but they deal with a lot of heavy topics like teen pregnancy, toxic friendships, abusive parents, abandonment, and substance abuse, to name a few. If you enjoy Jenny Han’s To All the Boys and The Summer series, you will definitely enjoy anything by Sarah Dessen.