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The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

So I've been thinking I should give Sarah Dessen another try for awhile now. It seems every other day people are extolling her virtues and it's not uncommon to hear Dessen referred to as the Queen of the contemporary YA. Quite the crown of laurels, really. Several years ago I picked up two Dessen books in a row--This Lullaby and Someone Like You--I believe it was. I was unenthused. I read both through to the finish but remained distinctly underwhelmed and promptly forgot them. But it's hard to avoid Dessen's work over a long period of reading young adult novels and they always seemed like books I would really like. So after hearing a multitude of people hail The Truth About Forever as their very favorite of her works, I decided it was high time to give her another shot.

Macy strives for perfection. Or at the very least she strives to facilitate it in others. Namely her brainiac boyfriend (and I use the term loosely) Jason. Having lost her father a year or so ago, she and her mother live alone in their huge house making time by ignoring their grief and focusing on making every aspect of their individual lives "perfect." Of course, everything is anything but. And when perfectly milquetoast Jason goes away for the summer, Macy promises to faithfully uphold his job at the local library as well as all their other clubs, cliques, and causes. But then the Wish Catering company invades Macy's home one night when her mother is entertaining prospective real estate clients. Led by extremely pregnant, extremely absentminded Delia, this motley crew soon worm their way into Macy's heart and she finds herself moonlighting as a caterer and, in the process, finds Wes. Who helps her realize there's more to life than frozen grief and insipid perfection.

The Truth About Forever started out well enough. I felt bad for Macy and the incredibly sad circumstances under which she lost her dad. I loved the idea of the crazy band of caterers operating in a chronic state of panic. I was definitely ready to find myself enamored of the kind and handsome Wes. But things just never went anywhere from there. I felt ready to feel those things the entire time without ever actually feeling them. Macy never morphed into a fully-fledged character for me. All of her emotions felt muted and mine followed suit. Though she was described as being torn between her relationship with Jason and her budding romance with Wes, she never really seemed to be. She and Wes spend hours and hours playing the truth game and divulging their innermost secrets to one another. And yet they didn't seem to forge a real, tangible connection. The kind of feelings that we're told were simmering on the surface never bubbled up. And the initially charming and quirky cast of characters slowly fade away into the lackluster background as the story goes on. What can I say? I didn't dislike the book. I just finished it feeling indifferent. Which I know is not the desired response. I feel like I've read books similar to this one done better, more dynamically--the writing, the characterization, the emotions, the whole thing. Jennifer Echols, Lisa Ann Sandell, Julia Hoban, and E. Lockhart come immediately to mind. And so I must conclude that I just don't possess the Sarah Dessen gene and leave it at that. It's a shame, but my reaction is definitely in the minority and thus the multitude of other reviews below.


Linkage
Avid Book Reader Review
Book Addiction Review
Dear Author Review
GalleySmith Review
Harmony Book Review
Just Listen Book Review
My Life in Books Review
Wondrous Reads Review

Comments

  1. Why it is sad to find disappointing a book you wanted to like. Don't be bummed about having different tastes than the majority. It happens to me quite a bit. If we all had the same tastes, publishers would publish less books. That would be a bummer.

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  2. I don't possess that gene either so don't feel bad. I usually like to be on the majority side though, because then all that hype and excitement was worth it, like The Hunger Games - I agreed with the vast majority of the reviews I read. It is rather disappointing when you read something that sounds so great in reviews and it is just so well meh. Thanks for the honesty.

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  3. How do you feel about Elizabeth Scott? She is often touted as the "next Sarah Dessen" because, I suppose, she writes romantic drama YAs, though they have very distinct styles. I really love Scott's books.

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  4. Susie, you're absolutely right. And it's happened to me before. I guess I just always hold out a little hope when it's a book so many have loved so much, you know? :)

    ParaJunkee, well, that makes me feel better knowing you feel the same way. "Meh" definitely describes my reaction to this one. No spark.

    Diana, you know I read BLOOM awhile back and really enjoyed it. I've been meaning to pick up SOMETHING, MAYBE and PERFECT YOU for awhile now. She seems a bit more vivid to me and I like her characters a lot.

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  5. It can feel very strange to dislike a book, or feel not much for it anyway, that a good bit of readers DO like. Been there. Lots lol.

    I've had my eye on this one because, like you, I hear this author's name a lot lately. I've almost bought it several times. Every time I pick it up though the blurb doesn't sound that interesting and skimming a few pages makes the book sound flat overall to me. At the moment I don't plan to give it a go, but maybe one day. Library read perhaps.

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  6. PS: LIVING DEAD GIRL is *not* like Bloom or Stealing Heaven of Scott's other YAs. It's kind of like how Laurie Halse Anderson does "issue" books and historicals? Well, Scott does romantic dramas and really, really heartbreaking issue books. Just a warning. LDG tore me into tiny little pieces.

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  7. I'm sorry to hear this one disappointed you, Angie.

    Interestingly, I had read Dessen's The Truth About Forever several months before reading Echols' Going Too Far and couldn't help comparing my reading experiences between the two contemporary romantic YAs... and while I loved both of these stories, I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite between the two. I loved them both! I agree that the Echols story is a very dynamic one and the characters are quite vivid, but overall, I found my inner teenage self identifying with Macy more easily.

    I think I should check out Elizabeth Scott's work! Thanks for the rec, Diana and Angie! ;)

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  8. Great honest review, and it's really good that you gave her another try. Maybe she just isn't for you! :)

    I'm one of those who love Truth About Forever, but then I loved Wes. *dreams*

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  9. I feel the exact same way you do about Sarah Dessen. I live in a very small town and the YA book selection both at the store and library consist of every Sara Dessen book and Twilight. Its rare I find something written by another author.I read Just Listen by Sarah Dessen it was ok but I was just expecting more since mostly everyone adores her.

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  10. Kmont, it can. And I know you've been there as well. :) But flat is definitely how this one came off to me and I would certainly categorize it as a library get. Then if, by chance, you fall in love you can purchase your own copy.

    Diana, I consider myself fairly warned. Though knowing it tore you up into tiny pieces does not encourage me to seek it out at the present time. Will keep it in mind, though, for when I'm feeling like a good thrashing. ;)

    Christine, see, so much of it is individual in how you relate (or don't) to the main character. And there's no predicting it sometimes. I'm sure I'm much more like Macy than Meg, but I couldn't get into her. For whatever reason. Do try out Elizabeth Scott, though! I recommend BLOOM. Sweet story. I think you'd like the girl. Plus--awesomely hot kitchen scene. hehe.

    prophecygirl, thanks. I'm thinking she must not be. And I can see why you dream about Wes. I don't know why I didn't "sa-woon" over him myself. He stayed fuzzy for me the whole time. Oh, well.

    Caitlin, that's hilarious. You poor thing. Only Dessen and Meyer. You're gonna have to start a campaign or something to get some variety in that place!

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  11. *sigh*

    I'm sorry it didn't work for you because I did love TTAF, but different strokes and all that! And three books is definitely more than enough to say whether her writing works for you or not.

    Now I haven't read any of the authors you mention in your last para, but Echols, for one, is definitely on my "to try" list.

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  12. Anonymous2:39 PM

    Angie, this is such a nice review for a book you feel underwhelmed by. I decided I should read something by Sarah Dessen a couple years ago and The Truth About Forever sounded the most appealing to me. But after I bought it, I never had the desire to read it. I picked up Along for the Ride at BEA last year, but haven't read that either. I keep moving them up on my TBR pile, but never get around to them.

    KarenS

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  13. Anonymous2:57 PM

    Speaking of Jennifer Echols, she's posted the cover for her next MTV novel, Forget You. This one sounds like it will give Going Too Far a run for its money. I can't wait!

    http://jenniferechols.livejournal.com/

    KarenS

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  14. We are definitely on the same wave length when it comes to Dessen. Several of hers got set aside when I just couldn't get into them, and the one I did read through to the end left me kind of cold. After that last one I decided to throw in the towel.

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  15. I keep meaning to pick up one of Dessen's books just because it seems like so many people love her but I haven't yet because of reviews just like yours. Sad. Maybe one day.

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  16. Oh my gosh, it's so nice to find someone else who felt underwhelmed by Dessen. I read a compilation - The Truth about Forever and the summer on were in one book because they made a movie about it with Mandy Moore....my memory's gone on this one, but anyways, I read it and thought, 'huh'. And haven't been tempted by one since. Which is weird, because I agree - the subject matter sounds fabulous.

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  17. I've been looking for more YA and this author has come up a time or two. I've stayed off reading her though because I'm a picky contemporary reader and an even pickier YA reader. After reading your review, I think I'll keep passing for now.

    BTW, really nice review for a book you were underwhelmed by.

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  18. Li, I know. I wanted to like it. But I'll probably call it quits here. Think you probably might like Echols' stuff.

    Karen, I know how you feel. And that cover! I saw it and cannot wait. The blurb makes it sound quite the thing. *excited*

    Chelle, exactly. Cold. The characters lack warmth. A fatal flaw for me.

    Michelle, I'd certainly be interested to see what you thought of it.

    Raspberry, you too!? Well, that makes me feel a bit better. Her books are just supremely forgettable to me. So no urge to try anymore. Why waste good reading time?

    Brie, judging by what I know of your taste I would recommend passing on this one. And thanks. I'm glad I didn't come off as a hater. Cause I'm not. Just not a fan.

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  19. Okay, full disclosure here, I am Sarah's literary agent and have been since book #1. So, that aside, I WOULD try again. They get better and better. I can't tell you how many times I fell in absolute love with her boys (I'm old too!!). She makes every emotion feel like it's happening to you. Read one of the last 3 that have been published---Just Listen, Lock and Key or Along For the Ride. If you try one of these I promise I will accept the fact that Sarah is just not your cup of tea!!!!!!!

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  20. leighlovessarah, hey! Thanks for stopping in and commenting. I'm sorry I wasn't more enthusiastic about the book. So a more recent one, eh? I'm willing to give it one more go, I suppose. Thanks for the recs.

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  21. Anonymous10:33 PM

    I am a Dessen fan but think you might like her older books better. As with many authors, being forced to crank out a book a year may have affected the quality of her current work. I did like Macy, but was disappointed in the two most recent books.

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  22. I don't understand the Dessen hype either. Although I enjoyed Just Listen, This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever. It was the characters I liked, not the writing. The problem I have with Dessen is that every book follows the same outline ... to the "T", boring after awhile.

    I was drawn in by the beautiful covers. She was my first taste of contemporary YA so I didn't have much to compare on. Since I've read so many fabulous YA authors, I haven't returned to Dessen. Maybe I too don't posses the gene after all.

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  23. I too feel guilty for not being able to feel the Dessen pull that so many people do. I picked this up on recommendation and sadly, I had to abandon it. I never connected and it never grabbed me. I feel guilty because it's not bad, and it's well written- it's just not there for me. I almost, felt too old to be reading it- which has been rare for me in the YA books I've read.

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  24. Anon, so some older ones, eh? I know the kind of effect you're talking about and it's discouraging to see. Will think on giving an older one a try.

    Tina, that's the thing. I have the hardest time distinguishing between the three I've read in my mind. They seem the same and I forget the characters' names quickly as well--which is unusual for me.

    Jane, exactly. It's not bad. It's just not . . . memorable or distinctive in my mind. Alas.

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  25. Catherine5:42 PM

    I respect your opinion, I really do. But I have a different one:

    I read this book, expecting it to be another good, same-old same-old Sarah Dessen novel; a girl in a destructive position or family issue with a sister. But this one was different, because it was actually similar to what I myself have experienced. My father passed away from cancer when I was 13 years old. He suffered 5 years trying to beat it, but in the end it ate his whole body. Now, Macy's experience was different than mine, but I knew what she was going through....and I understand trying to be perfect. Just like her, I thought 'If I could have control in just one thing, I won't be so sad.' It doesn't work like that. It really doesn't.
    To really start to beat the grieving process, you actually have to GRIEVE. If you pretend everything is okay, you aren't helping yourself at all. And I think a lot of people in Macy's (and my) situation feel like they should try to have control over something, since the rest of their life is coming crashing down on them.

    Even if you don't understand what I feel after reading this book, it really helped me realize that once you start to grieve, you CAN get over something like this and remember the good things that losses leave, like pictures and stories and memories, not just the death and the sickness and pain. This book taught me a lot that I needed to hear. Needed to KNOW. Thanks for the review, though.

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