Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen


Title: This Lullaby 

Author: Sarah Dessen 

Rating: 4 Stars

For Remy, planning her mother's fifth wedding is not a surprise. A cynic when it comes to love, Remy's life has been a flash of watching her mother cycle through different boyfriends, different husbands, and different attempts at happily-ever-after. Remy's own father, a musician, never even met her before he passed away, leaving behind a song, "This Lullaby", as his only legacy and gift to his daughter. Needless to say, Remy's life has been meticulously planned, not around love, but around preventing it. Of her rules, staying away from musicians ranks at the top of the list, swiftly followed by ending every relationship she's been in before becoming emotionally attached. Now, the summer before her freshman year at Stanford University, Remy has everything figured - or she thinks she does. Until, that is, Dexter bumps into her and forces her to re-evaluate everything she thought she knew about love, life, and family.

I picked up This Lullaby desperately needing to immerse myself back into the Young Adult genre. Sarah Dessen, though sticking to a rather predictable formula, nevertheless manages to stun audiences every time, using her words and characters to weave together the best aspects of the Young Adult Contemporary genre. With a Dessen novel, I can always expect a realistic protagonist, one whose flaws are even more obvious than her strengths; a swoon-worthy love interest who never "heals" the heroine, but merely helps her reach the stage where she can "heal" herself; strong female friendships with meaningful conversations; and complex familial ties. In all these aspects, This Lullaby did not disappoint in the least.

It has always surprised me that Dessen is never criticized for writing unlikable heroines when most authors most definitely are. In retrospect, though, it is clear that Dessen's protagonists are balanced, both their light and dark qualities ones which readers are able to connect to. Remy, however, doesn't fit into this box perfectly, which I swiftly welcomed. From the beginning itself, Remy is cynical and indifferent. When it comes time to break up with her boyfriend, she performs the task with a cold and singular type of devotion, reciting the lines without thinking about them because this is a path she has traveled down before - many, many times. Yet, despite her plethora of boyfriends and past sexual experiences, Dessen draws a firm line, making it clear that Remy's actions do not label her as a slut. Instead, we grow to love and appreciate Remy, despite her prickliness and especially despite the fact that she is not the simpering virgin that dominates literature.

Dexter, the cute musician who is drawn to Remy from the moment he lays eyes on her, is an utterly swoon-worthy addition to this cast. With Dexter and Remy, their relationship is slow and meaningful, carefully forcing Remy to break her own rules. It is her friends, in particular, who notice this change, though not all of them encourage it. While Remy's friends do not factor into a large portion of the plot, they are nevertheless present and distinct in their personalities, both supporting her decisions and offering their own. It doesn't come across as the classic one-best-friend-to-rule-them-all type of friendship, but it is unique and important in its own right. Even with Dexter, their relationship hardly follows the classic story arc. While it is, admittedly, peppered with a few circumstances which have been done before, I enjoyed its originality and, moreover, Remy's growing discomfort with her attachment to Dexter.

The crux of This Lullaby lies not in the Remy accepting her love for Dexter, but rather in her accepting the idea of love at all. Even within her own family, Remy cannot comprehend how her older brother has fallen in love; how did he make that decision? It doesn't hit Remy that love isn't a controllable emotion; that no matter how hard she tries, she either has to give in and fall at some point or merely make herself unhappy. In an effort to ensure she never becomes her mother, Remy fails to see that her mother's re-marriages are not a sign of failure, but rather a sign of hope; of trying at love, again and again and again. Remy's ultimate growth is a combination of her familial influence, her friendships, her blossoming relationship with Dexter over a summer which is coming to an end, and so much more as well. Dessen's novels contain such realistic issues and focus on them so thoroughly, with single-minded devotion, that their conclusions are intensely satisfying. It seems as if, these days, more and more contemporary novels seem to tackle on a multitude of issues from relationship problems to self-discovery and sibling strife all in one novel when, really, Sarah Dessen figured out the key a long time ago. This Lullaby is not my favorite Dessen novel, not by a long shot, but it is the one I will remember with the most clarity (if for nothing else than for the fact that there is a Potato Song within these pages). If more authors wrote the way Dessen did, you'd be hard-pressed to get be out of the Contemporary YA section...ever.

16 comments:

Inis Ravishing Reads said...

I've read only two Dessen novels-The truth about forever and Just Listen, however, both was a great disappointment for me. I've tried to read other Dessen's books, but seriously I couldn't get past 50 pages. This Lullaby has garnered a 4 star rating from you, which definitely makes me reconsider my stance. Remy sounds little different from other Dessen's protagonists. Thanks for bringing in to my attention.Lovely review, Keertana!! (:

Blodeuedd said...

I should read a Dessen one day :)

Hilda K said...

Yes, Keertana! A million yes! I agree with every word in this review. Sarah Dessen's strength mainly lays with her ability to spin words into gold, and this review just reminds me how this book made me smile all over. :) The potato song! Don't forget the spoon scene when Remy buys Dexter spoon. Not many authors can turn spoons into such meaningful scene. ;)

I agree that heroes in Dessen's books never "heals" the heroine, but merely helps her reach the stage where she can "heal" herself. It's always the heroine who takes the last decision. It's something more authors should take note on. ;)

Fabulous review, hun! :)

Rachel said...

I do like that Dessen writes heroines with flaws and doesn't try and fix them through the story. I loved The Truth About Forever and Just Listen even more, but This Lullaby was not as enjoyable for me. I didn't click with Remy. She wasn't particularly nice, and it just rubbed me the the wrong way for the majority of the story. Great review, Keertana! :)

BURIED IN BOOKS said...

I am glad you found this novel enjoyable! I am listening to Along For The Ride, my first Dessen novel.
I was hoping for a light summery book, but I don't think so from reading your review, lol. Great review!!

Jenny said...

I have yet to read anything by Sarah Dessen. Fail! Remy sounds like a tricky character given the way she breaks up with her boyfriend and her general indifference, but it's clear from your review that there is growth both on Remy's part and the reader's as we learn to appreciate her for who she is. Must give this one a try!

Emma said...

I haven't read any of Sarah Dessen books. But I know she is quite a popular author in YA genre. And like you I always find myself going back to a contemporary YA to immerse myself back into reading. With such a positive review on connecting all aspects of YA with romance, it has made me want to grab a copy now. Lovely review, my friend! :)

Tanja - Tanychy said...

I have read two Sarah's books and while they are highly predictable and you can guess most of the things from just the blurb it's amazing how she writes and at the end you always end up loving them more than expected. You are right hew protagonists are always really balanced. I'm so happy you enjoyed this one. Great review, Keertana :)

Hafsah - IceyBooks said...

I have yet to read a Sarah Dessen book, but this sounds heartbreaking. And I love flawed characters, though it is sometimes hard to connect to them. They feel more real and fleshed out. I'll need to read this one! Great review, Keertana.

Glass said...

I never really thought about it, but you are right - her characters are always somewhere in the middle, they have good and bad sides. That is one of the reasons why I love her novels so much. This Lullaby is after Along For The Ride my favorite.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I have not read this author yet and I have yet to be caught by the NA bug. Still, this one sounds interesting because of the growth. Hm... will have to bump up this author on my must read list.

Lily B said...

awww I guess she sounds like a very good author when you want to read some YA contemporary, the book sounds wonderful. I haven't yet read anything by her, but people keep praising her so much it's exciting. Even if this wasn't your favorite novel by her :)

The Bookish Manicurist said...

It's been ages since I've read any of her books (I've been saving her most recent) and while they are formulaic (especially when you read them all in a row like I did) I still love her books for the reasons you mention: realistic characters and excellent contemp!

Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist

Amanda said...

"Sarah Dessen, though sticking to a rather predictable formula, nevertheless manages to stun audiences every time, using her words and characters to weave together the best aspects of the Young Adult Contemporary genre." - I think that's probably a really good way to describe Dessen's works. I've only read one so far, but I plan on reading more of her works soon, just so that I can better understand all the Dessen love out there. And it is nice to know there's an author who tosses around some realistic teen issues without taking on too many and leaving readers dissatisfied.
Lovely review, as always dear!
Out of curiosity, which of Dessen's novels is your favorite?

Keertana said...

Amanda, my favorite Dessen romance is JUST LISTEN. It has a bit of a slow start, but I absolutely LOVE the character growth, sisterly relationships, and of course the swoon-worthy romance. THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER is another favorite among most readers and yet another Dessen novel I've thoroughly enjoyed. I'd definitely recommend both of those, very highly. :)

Courtney Reads A Lot said...

Okay, I have a confession to make. I'm not a huge Sarah Dessen fan. I've tried maybe three of her books in my lifetime, and while I didn't hate them, I didn't love them. But this was some time ago so I'm considering picking this book back up and giving it another try, especially after your glowing review. I definitely agree that Dessen's books are more realistic than some other YA contemporary books you'll find, and I'm willing to give This Lullaby another try considering so many people love it. Exceptional review, Keertana!