Once and for All by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking Books on June 6, 2017
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
3.5 Stars, Completed May 8, 2017
– this review is quite long; you can read the bold text to get the main idea and to avoid SPOILERS –
Being the daughter of a popular wedding planner, Louna has practically seen every type of wedding imaginable, some with hysterical brides, others couples with cold feet or misbehaved wedding guests, and not uncommonly all of the above sometimes. Witnessing the imperfect side of those in romantic relationships has made her somewhat cynical about happily ever afters and question if they even really exist. It doesn’t help that her first love ended tragically. So when Louna meets happy go lucky, serial dater Ambrose her heart by default knows to be wary of stepping into romance territory and she decides to keep him at arm’s length. But that isn’t going to stop Ambrose seeing as he’s finally met the girl that he really wants.
The day has come. I, Summer, have been approved to read a book by one of my top three favorite authors. (They are, in no particular order, Sarah Dessen, Cassandra Clare, and J.K. Rowling in case you were curious.) I had hoped that my few years of blogging would eventually lead to this surreal moment.
So, yeah, to say that I’m
kind of a massive Dessen superfan would even be an understatement. Before I knew I was granted access to this eARC, regardless of whether I was going to get to read this early or not I had already preordered my copy since the premise had me so pumped (and I take pride in the fact that I own all of Dessen’s books and in multiple editions). Because, come on, a second chance love story written by Queen Dessen herself? With weddings and wedding planning stuff? And a sprinkle of rom-com feels? A million times YES! (It almost feels like I’m accepting a proposal with that enthusiastic answer, haha.)
Therefore it shouldn’t be much of surprise that I finished this baby in a matter of days. And I’d say that this is one of the better works that Dessen has written in a while. (Her last couple were good but not amazing, in my opinion.) I think Once and for All will also be a more memorable one because there’s a dash of harsh but relevant reality included in the subplot (with Louna’s first relationship).
Which brings me to the fact that Once and For All is quite a strange and unique book. Readers get to observe two (well, technically, even three) different relationships that involve the main female protagonist. (And a myriad of relationships with the male lead since he’s kind of a ladies’ man and all.)
“Are you serious, with all this?”
“What this?” I nodded at the door, which Grace had left slightly open behind her. “The way you talked to her. Is it a joke, or not?”
“I never joke when it comes to pretty girls,” he replied. Of course he didn’t.
“Don’t feel bad about not understanding me, though,” he said. “I’m kind of an enigma. Mysterious, hard to know.”
“People that are hard to know don’t often announce the fact they are hard to know,” I pointed out.
Each of the three romances that Louna experiences are so different. With Ethan it feels exactly as how she describes it to readers: a little too fast and rushed, but also nothing short of enchanting. Almost dream-like even. Which also adds to the theory of how first love can feel magical or so I’ve heard. With Ambrose, Louna builds a steady friendship that involves a lot of bickering and silly betting. I believe readers will get the most rom-com feels out of this one. And lastly with Ben, more of a brief rebound that is underdeveloped (which is the point because it’s not supposed to last).
“Look, you don’t have to explain yourself,” he said easily. “I’m not for everyone.”
Again, this was said with such ease, a plain truth. What was it like to be so confident even in your failings that you weren’t the least bit bothered when other people pointed them out? I was almost envious.
Ambrose is unlike most of the Dessen boys I’ve encountered so far. If I met a guy like him in real life I wouldn’t be attracted to him or deem him dateble at all. He doesn’t do serious relationships or commitments, but I suppose it’s alright since he is at least honest and open about it from the start. Though I was hesitant toward liking him, I’m sure that there will be readers that will be charmed by Ambrose as much as Louna (eventually) was. He has his flaws and his initial morals in regards to dating and relationships are questionable, but he does prove to readers multiple times throughout the story that he’s not a bad guy.
I’d spent less than a day with Ethan, but still felt he knew me better than just about anyone. You can’t measure love by time put in, but the weight of those moments. Some in life are light, like a touch.
From my earlier statement about Louna and her three relationships it can be predicated that flashbacks are, indeed, used. I normally don’t like this type of storytelling but I did think it was executed well and not in a confusing or boring manner. In fact, I really enjoyed getting to the parts of Louna’s past with her first love. It was exciting and the perfect blend of romanticism and realism that readers need amidst the cutesy and playful story with Ambrose. The way the flashbacks were incorporated provided a good balance, surprisingly.
The time we’d been together had been so short and yet so intense that everything was sped up, like the difference between dog and people years. I already felt like I’d known him forever. This was what love was. I knew it now. And it changed everything.
And with Louna’s short but romantic time together with Ethan readers really get the sense of how it’s not the duration of the relationship but rather the intensity of one that truly matters. I’m no expert in romance, dating, or relationships, but it feels like Dessen really nailed this concept. Once and for All exemplifies the idea that love and heartbreak can happen with no specific time parameters. It doesn’t matter how long a couple was together for. It could have been 5 years or five months, but they could have still felt the same level or impact of love or heartbreak as long as their relationship possessed enough depth.
“For a set period, I agree to date the way you do, multiple people, no commitment. At the same time, you find one girl and see her exclusively. We see who bows out first.”
Needless to say, the cliché, cheesy elements often associated with romance contemporaries were certainly present, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for me (well somewhat-I’ll bring this up again later in the review).
However, there is a twist about Louna’s past with Ethan that readers may love or hate. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. There were many hints that lead readers to realize what had happened with Ethan and how Louna’s relationship with him ended. I thought the twist worked okay but, in hindsight, I also didn’t think I interpreted it to be as deep as Dessen probably wanted it to be for readers.
Louna’s experience with her first boyfriend is devastating, sure. But, personally, I didn’t feel like it was on the same scale of depth as what Dessen’s previous heroines have had to deal with before e.g. Annabel’s rape or Macy’s grief over her father’s death. But maybe I felt this way because I had already guessed the big twist early on and knew that Ethan and her were a failed relationship because of it. Therefore, my final rating wasn’t influenced by this.
Instead it was on the too cheesy ending. How Louna moves on from her traumatic experience with her first relatonship and overcomes her skeptism towards love was a bit too cheesy (and unrealistically coincidental) for my liking. I won’t elaborate on this because of major spoilers, but I think those that have read Once and for All know precisely what ending scene I’m referring to.
It took a lot to have hope in this world where so little evidence of it existed. We may all start in the same place, at a church, watching a couple begin a whole new life together. But what we glimpse beyond that is different for each of us, a funhouse mirror reflection of our own experience. Maybe if nothing bad had ever happened, you didn’t even consider those clouds and storms ahead. But for the rest of us, even the brightest sunshine carried a chance of rain. It was only a matter of time.
I loved that the plot revolved around weddings and wedding planning. I found the theories that Louna, her mother, and her mother’s best friend and business partner and Louna’s gay godfather, William, collected after years of experience in the business to be comical and fascinating. Dessen goes in a lot of detail with the entire thing-perhaps, a little too much at times-from the way flowers are arranged, the process of getting the venue, etc but I didn’t mind.
And I was especially fond of how Dessen depicted an only child with a single parent that had a business. I could relate to the many responsibilities and obligations Louna had when she helped out her mom. Without signing up, wedding planning became something she was an expert at and she was ready to leave it behind after high school; college was her escape. This book truly brought me back to when I had to work at the family business during my own youth. (Like the fact that Louna had to work her graduation day reminded me of when I worked the morning of my prom. The things we, kids that grew up in family businesses, had to sacrifice and get used to.)
But going back to William, I noticed (and appreciated) Dessen’s attempts of diversifying the cast by including people of color and different sexualities. Though, it’s disappointing that they were all supporting roles. It was nice to see that this book had more of a melting pot cast compared to her previous work.
“It’s about the courage to go for what you want, not just what you think you need.”
Gosh, I promise I wasn’t planning to write an essay for this review, but I guess I was so excited to touch on so many aspects of the novel that it sort of happened naturally. Anyway, I thought Once and for All was yet another delightful read by Queen Dessen. It still doesn’t beat my top favorites by her, but I believe it’s probably the best she’s put out in recent years. Actually, if I did quarter or smaller decimal ratings 3.75 stars would be more of an exact, true rating.
To conclude I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start my summer than this. So to fellow returning devoted fans of Dessen, this will definitely be the perfect summery read you’ve been long awaiting.
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected advance readers copy.
Thank you Viking Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review Once and for All. In no way did this affect my reading experience or honest review.