Happy summer! I’ve always found summer to be the perfect time to really knock some books off your reading list. For long plane/bus/train rides, nothing makes the time pass by faster than reading. I’ve been looking forward to Sarah Dessen’s latest book for a very long time, so it’s so timely that it was released just as the summer is beginning.
“Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.”
I love anything Sarah Dessen, and therefore I really wanted to love her latest creation. I really did. Unfortunately, I was left sorely disappointed.
Ultimately, the weak plot and romance notwithstanding, I think this book really fell flat for me where characterization was concerned. Dessen’s past heroines – Macy, Annabel, Auden, Ruby – were all so well-developed and complex. It’s easy to empathize with them because I think that every girl can see a little bit of themselves in the emotionally guarded Ruby, the quiet Annabel, and the selfless Macy. I can’t say the same about Louna. This is a girl who literally does not think any love can surpass the love she felt after spending ONE (!!) magical night with her lost love. If you think after one night that you’ve met the love of your life, you’re not a hopeless romantic, you’re just dumb. Sure, they spent a few months in a long distance relationship, but the amount of time they actually spent together? One night. Though I understand that healing and moving forward after losing someone you love takes time, Louna took it to an extreme that I just couldn’t get behind or identify with.
Her main love interest was equally annoying. I’m actually not quite sure who I disliked more, Louna or Ambrose. Sidenote: what kinds of names are Louna and Ambrose?? How did we get from Owen (Just Listen) and Nate (Lock and Key) to AMBROSE?? To describe Ambrose in one word, he is annoying. Not even the endearing kind of annoying, but just plain annoying. There were moments where he showed some modicum of depth and maturity, but that was quickly overshadowed by his inability to take anything seriously and his emotional maturity of an elementary school child.
Please recall that the blurb says “…Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.” I literally cannot recall him showing interest in Louna aside from his proclamation of love 80% into the book. If Ambrose was a friend of mine… but oh wait, he wouldn’t be, because I literally would have 0 patience for someone like him.
Despite its weaknesses though, Once and For All was still a pleasant read. I loved the wedding planning focus, and the chaos of the weddings really brought out the best in Louna and co. in how they tackled each situation. As someone who occasionally plans events for work as well, I am fully aware that when it comes to events like weddings/parties/galas/etc, anything that could go wrong will go wrong. I could definitely pick up some tips from the Natalie Barrett team.
The key to enjoying Dessen’s stories is to take them as they are. They’re fluffy and they’re happy. They’re also full of cliches, but I’ve always believed that the reason why we enjoy cliches (as much as we make fun of them) is because they speak to universal feelings and truths. These books may not be great works of literature and the storylines begin to repeat themselves after your third one or so, but there’s something so magical in the way she tells her stories, works with motifs and themes, and humanizes her characters. This was not her strongest work, but I’ll still look forward to the next one while I reread her earlier books to remind myself the reason why I fell in love with her characters in the first place.
For those of you looking for the perfect summer picnic read, I recommend the following Sarah Dessen books – you won’t be disappointed!
- The Truth About Forever
- Just Listen
- Along for the Ride
- This Lullaby