Sarah Dessen is pretty much a fixture in YA literature. Since basically everyone seems to love her books, I wanted to find out what I had been missing and earlier this year picked up my first, The Truth About Forever - which I really liked. A couple of weeks ago I read Lock and Key but was left feeling pretty underwhelmed by Ruby's story of redemption from a life of neglect. Hoping that is was simply a fluke, I dove strait into my third Dessen, This Lullaby, with high hopes. And then proceeded directly to Unsure Land.
Having just graduated high school, Remy is ready to set off for Stanford at summer's end and there's no incentive that could ever induce her to stay home with her flaky, soon-to-be-married mother (fifth time's the charm!). Seeing as her mother could never hold down a lasting relationship, Remy has what you might call a 'cynical' view on relationships. Even with Remy's father, a man she never even met; a deceased bohemian musician whose legacy to Remy entails a one-hit-wonder called "This Lullaby" written after hearing of her birth. So in an effort to not become her mother, Remy has created her very own Dating Cycle: enjoy the initial, first giddy phase of a relationship, break it off while things are still good, and then move on. Rinse and repeat. Like about 50 times.
Then Remy meets Dexter one auspicious day and although she continues to brush him off (he's a musician, he's goofy, he eats in her car, etc.), Dexter slowly captures Remy's interest. Unlike every other predictable guy Remy has ever met, Dexter worms his way into her heart and makes her wonder, for the first time ever, what falling in love might actually be like. But then relationship drama ensues (*cough*Remy's commitment phobic *cough*) and the Remy Dating Cycle rears up once more. Though Remy isn't as blase about this breakup as she pretends to be - suddenly she's finding it very hard to pretend that Dexter is just another inconsequential blip on her dating map.
There are lots of good things to like like about This Lullaby. For starters, Sarah Dessen knows how to craft a readable book. Her novels aren't exactly short, but I'm always startled at how quickly they seem to fly by. And even though she's dealing with some heavy subjects I found myself laughing aloud often ("Hate Spinnerbait" anyone?). Remy and Dexter are intelligent and intriguing characters, with personalities fully-formed, but who still underwent some visible and hefty changes throughout the novel. Always a good thing.
That said, I have issues.
First of all, I know I'm not a teen (anymore), but I couldn't help but be floored by the acceptance of underage drinking throughout the novel. On several occasions Remy is invited to drink (either directly or indirectly) by most of the adults in her life, including her mother and boss. Friends, she's only 18! It was like a forgone conclusion that Remy should have a beer, or champagne or whatever in hand at any function. Perhaps if Remy's story had been set during college, this wouldn't have stuck out to me so much, but since Remy and her friends had had easy access to booze since their early teens with no consequences, I just couldn't see this as an accurate portrayal of teen life.
And then there is Remy's odd view of relationships and love. I don't see how a perfectionist such as Remy would resort to all the unnecessary hassles that go along with dating - even in Remy's modified version. Why all the sleeping around? Why the constant revolving door of relationships? Didn't she see how similar it was to her mom's own pattern (without the marriage proposals, of course). I never understood her motivations for doing any of these things even if I could sometimes understand her confusion over people's explanations of love.
So how do I balance all this? On the one hand, I found This Lullaby to be an engrossing book, full of thought-provoking, if not often heart-breaking, descriptions of love and relationships. The characters I found to be fully-formed and interesting and in most cases, extremely likable. At at the same time, I never felt that Remy's high school party persona was consistent with the rest of her Miss Fix-it character. I think I'm just going to have to sit on this one for a while. Any one else out there have a similar experience or thoughts?
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes review
The Sarah Dessen Diarist chapter-by-chapter review
Teens Read Too review
book source: purchased