In my tween years I was obsessed — and I mean obsessed in a not-quite-but-nearly cult-like way — with Sarah Dessen books. When each new one came out, I’d beg my mom to take me to the bookstore so that I could relish the novel’s tale in one day. I’d dream that I would someday find my Wes or my Dexter who would allow me to escape the supposed doldrums of everyday life. And I shamelessly and enthusiastically continued to purchase her books all throughout high school. Because, you see, Dessen has a way with characters. Though her plot lines aren’t exactly novel, her ability to craft distinct, relatable characters makes readers feel like they can identify with them — or, at least, it did for me.
As I read her most recent book, The Moon and More, however, I finished it with a lingering feeling of unfulfillment, or perhaps even dissatisfaction. At first, I couldn’t really figure out why I felt this way. After all, it’s only a book. But then it dawned on me. My older self is way less susceptible to the stereotypical plot line of guy saving girl. Slight spoiler alert: though in The Moon and Back, Emaline (the protagonist) ultimately breaks up with her two beaus, it takes having them around for her to truly find herself.
Although I wholeheartedly believe we are each shaped by the people who cross paths with us, it seems that many of Dessen’s female characters are exclusively (or at least mainly) influenced by their male counterparts. Yes, a romance novel nearly always sells — and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy indulging in the traditional happily ever after — but, for her next book, I urge Dessen to write one in which the key ingredient for a gal’s growth isn’t a guy. I’d personally like to believe that Dessen’s knack for developing characters isn’t contingent upon whether there’s a romantic storyline.