Once and For All is the thirteenth book by Sarah Dessen, who has always been one of my favorite authors. This book, like almost all of her previous works, is set during the summer and follows Louna, the daughter of a wedding planner. Growing up in this industry has made Louna cynical about love, or maybe it was the tragedy of her first love that made her that way. But all that changes when she meets the confident Ambrose and she wonders if there is a second chance at true love.
I have read every Sarah Dessen novel and thought I knew what I was expecting: a cute novel with realistic characters and a ethereal summer feeling. Instead we were given a flat story complete with flat characters. I finished this book so sad that I didn’t enjoy it, and now I’m left wondering if I have romanticized Sarah’s previous books or if I have simply outgrown her work.
While Sarah does focus on the day-to-day details of her character’s lives, it is usually presented in an interesting way, and there is usually some sort of conflict that is the driving force of the story and keeps you holding out for the next chapter. She is able to tacitly handle writing about more difficult topics that are unfortunately a very real part of life (Dreamland and Just Listen are the best examples). The romance she incorporates is also handle well, with a steady build-up and a cute resolution. This book fell short in all these respects.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Our main character, Louna, is not a great character or terrible character. She is barely a character, which is almost worse than being an annoying character. Her main story is that she still mourning her first love, Ethan. They met at a wedding and had one magical night together where, at the end, they profess their love for each other…after only a few hours of meeting (ugh Insta-Love). They then spend the next few months texting back and forth and make plans to see each other during an upcoming break. That is until there is a shooting at Ethan’s school and he is killed. I feel for Louna in this situation, as well as anyone who has ever been caused any harm by a shooter. It is a relevant topic to discuss, but while I applaud Sarah for trying to touch on this subject, I’m not sure it totally worked. Ethan’s death is heavily foreshadowed throughout the entire book, including the flashbacks where Louna reminisces about their one night. However, it sometimes felt like Ethan would be brought up randomly to further the not-really-there plot of this book. I did enjoy all of these flashback scenes. I think if those had been this book, with a bit more build-up of the romance between Ethan and Louna, I would have preferred it, because honestly, it sounds super cute. Oh, Ethan sounded way better than Ambrose.
Our love interest Ambrose was super annoying and selfish. He held up his own mother’s wedding because he was flirting with a girl in the parking lot. He steals someone’s dog (granted it was a dog from a potentially abusive owner) and receives no repercussions of this. He also tries way too hard to be funny and seems to think he is the most charming person to ever grace the planet. I have met people like this in real life and there is not a single person I know who finds this attitude attractive.
My favorite characters in this book was William, the gay godfather, and Crawford, Jilly’s younger brother who reminded me of Klaus Baudelaire. The rest of the characters left much to be desired.
I purchased the Barnes and Noble edition that included an extra scene set one year later, and I personally think it is so much better. Those thirteen pages held the familiar Sarah Dessen magic, with characters from previous books making an appearance and some cute moments between Ambrose and Louna. I really wish this had been incorporated into the main story.
Sadly, this was a disappointing read for me. I still loves Sarah’s work and am looking forward to what she brings out next. But right now all I can say is: Why do meh stories have to come with the prettiest covers?
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars.
Do you have a favorite Sarah Dessen book, or simply a favorite summer read? Please share in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!