I read That Summer
many, many years ago, was disappointed in Sarah Dessen's writing overall, and never bothered to return to her -- until mandated by my book club.
I was hoping that in the 11 or so years since I'd last read her she'd become a better writer. And while I think this was probably better than "That Summer," I won't be returning to Dessen on my own any time soon.
There were so many characters, so much going on, and so many pages in this novel (luckily, there was fairly large font so it read quickly). I just kept wondering if we really needed so much crammed in. She had three sisters, two dads, a mom, a stepmom, a best girlfriend, a best guy friend, a half-brother, a long-time boyfriend, a new love interest, and random small-town acquaintances and big city visitors, some of which were more important than others. All of these trying to clamor for some "page time" and demanding their own story arcs, so that the whole thing came across feeling over ambitious and under developed.
Although the book sells itself as a "love triangle" story -- a break up with a long-time boyfriend, a summer fling with an out-of-towner -- the love triangle is not especially compelling. The new boyfriend is too annoying to sweep a reader off her feet, and the old boyfriend gets to little attention. Still, I rooted for the old boyfriend. Don't worry, I won't give away how it ends!
The family relationships are more compelling, particularly the relationship between Emaline and her half brother Benji. And the relationship that seems to define and change Emaline most seems to be the one with her estranged father.
Fans of Sarah Dessen tend to pick her up because she writes fun, "light" reads. While that's mostly true, I think her books rub me the wrong way because they always seem to be trying to be something more. Mostly light, with a dash of pretentious. I'll pass.