As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.
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.
Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.
THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW
Sarah Dessen has been one of those consistent presences in my life. I started reading her books when I was twelve (perhaps a little young to be reading Just Listen, but I credit Sarah Dessen with getting me into writing, because as I read her books, I discovered the desire to want to do exactly what she did). So I don’t think it’s possible for me to be disappointed with anything Sarah Dessen does, because I have such a long and tender history with her books. Once and for All did have a snag for me because I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance, but I still really enjoyed it.
What Worked for Me
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate Sarah Dessen novels for is the prevalence of family. I’ve noticed it’s a common complaint amongst readers that parental figures and family units in general are either unnecessarily demonized or absent entirely. Such is not the case in Sarah Dessen’s work. Louna has a good relationship with her mom, who is present for a great deal of the book, and she has a father figure in her mom’s best friend and business partner, William. And while that’s all she has in terms of family, they play a major part in the story and it’s one of the main things that made Once and for All so enjoyable.
I really liked Louna’s character. The girl had so much on her plate and she was just trying to keep it all together. She also didn’t fit into a trope. She wasn’t snarky or bitter or (too) OCD; she didn’t have a “thing.” So it made her feel real, like she was just a girl who was dealing with trauma and not conforming to a type.
The story of Once and for All was engaging and enjoyable. I was caught up in it. I laughed out loud and the ending made me gasp. I’ve always liked Sarah Dessen’s writing style and she seems to have a natural ability to tell a good story. I can’t wait to add this one to my Sarah Dessen collection.
The backstory is interspersed into the opening act of the book, but isn’t clearly marked, so it may be the kind of book better read in just one or two sittings because time away from it may make returning to the plot line a bit confusing. I lost track of the timelines a once or twice in the beginning, and though it worked out in the end, I don’t want to be confused.
I’ve been learning more about male dominating rhetorics being passed of as romantic lately (I found Aentee’s review of Roar by Cora Carmack very enlightening), but I was surprised to still see bits of that operating in a Sarah Dessen book. (Maybe they have all along and I’ve never been aware enough to notice them?) The rhetoric is subtle, but we still see language of women being viewed as prizes. You even get it right there in the summary:
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.
It may be subtle enough that most readers won’t care, and in the context it’s given, see it as genuinely sweet. But it bothered me enough that I’m not 100% into Ambrose’s character.
So the romance fell a bit flat for me. I liked Ambrose well enough (despite the perpetuation of the men conquering women rhetoric), but I didn’t think that they actually worked as a couple. I honestly thought that it was going to end where they went on as good friends and I was totally okay with that.
This might have been because Ambrose as a character wasn’t developed to my satisfaction. I know that the focus is Louna, obviously, but Ambrose wasn’t wrestling with anything or had any issues of his own to deal with. (The dating thing doesn’t count in my opinion.) So there were things about Louna that surprised Ambrose, but nothing about Ambrose that surprised Louna. (Other than the declaration of love, which also doesn’t count in my opinion because everyone sees it coming before they pick up the book.) I wanted Ambrose to have more dimension.
Despite my under enthusiastic response to the romance, it was still engaging and fun and definitely worth a spot in your summer reading pile
358 pages • Published June 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
I was a hopeful C cup at best, and she was a legit D, so she always added to my clothes a va-va-voom factor I couldn’t even hope for.
I actually sent my best friend this quote and told her, “Oh, look, it’s you, the hopeful C cup and me, adding va-va-voom to clothes since 2008.” 😂
“When this boy does come,” William said to me in early September, as I sat texting with Ethan after school as he rode the bus to a lacrosse game, “I’m going to have to sit him down and have a talk.”
“You?” my mom asked from her desk, where she was busy checking a spreadsheet of attendees to the next wedding. “Isn’t that my job?”
“I’m the father figure. If anyone gets to sit cleaning a gun while making the boy squirm talking about honor and chivalry, it’s me.”
“A gun?” I said.
“You maced yourself the last time you tried to carry pepper spray,” my mom told him.
“Well, I obviously wouldn’t do that while giving this talk,” he replied snippily.
William is the wellspring of humor in this book and I am so here for it.
William’s phone beeped. “Your mother is reporting surly bartenders,” he reported, after looking at the screen. “I guess it’s time for my patented attitude adjustment.”
“I’ll pray for them,” I told him, as he straightened his tie.
“You just get out of here,” he replied, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. “Save yourself.”