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.