"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review #18: This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen

I follow John Green on Facebook and a few months ago, he posted about Sarah Dessen's new novel (the name of which escapes me at the moment), and I figured that since I harbor a) a secret love for YA fiction and b) a secret love for John Green, I'd give her a whirl and downloaded This Lullaby, which was what was available from Overdrive. And it was... okay, I guess?

The story follows eighteen year old Remy during that magical time between high school graduation and the start of freshman year. Remy's in the throes of planning for college (a west coast school, because she's going as far away as possible) and also in the midst of planning her mother's fifth wedding when she meets Dexter, a member of a local band in town for the summer. Dexter is immediately a smitten kitten, but Remy, cynical in a way that only eighteen year old fictional girls can be, isn't so sure she likes him. There's a lot of back and forth banter, typical teenage drama, and a smelly but faithful dog. Rounding out the cast of characters are Remy's friends (I guess the kids call them a squad now - I'm so old): darkly humorous Chloe, Lissa, who is always emotional and a bit of a drama queen, and Jess, who is practical and a little bit dull. In other words, a poor man's teenage version of the Sex and the City women: Remy is Carrie, Chloe is Samantha, Lissa is Charlotte, and Jess is Miranda. We also have Dexter's friends and bandmates, who are written as such scatterbrains that I found it hard to believe they managed to find the town, let alone a place to live and some gigs, Remy's aforementioned wacky mom, the car dealer husband, and her weird brother, who is equally infatuated with both his pet lizards and his girlfriend Jennifer Anne. Anyway, Remy mainly resists the pull of Cupid's arrow while Dexter happily surrenders to it, and there is a lot of angst and hand wringing about what she should do.
Remy's thing is that she doesn't believe in love. Not the true love, fairy tale kind of love anyway. Her dad left when they were young; his claim to fame is a song called "This Lullaby" that he ostensibly wrote for her, and it's one of those songs that gets played for the father/daughter dance at every third wedding in America. Because of her dad's disappearance, and probably thanks in no small part to her mom's eleventy billion weddings, Remy feels as though love is just an illusion. But Dexter...Dexter could possibly change her mind, although Remy is also determined not to let him. College and her future is too important to get hung up on some guy.
The overall theme here is good. I have to give Dessen major points for having Remy still leave for school and follow her dreams, no matter how much she may have been tempted to stay behind. And points, too, for not making Dexter a total jerkface and allowing him to be confident enough in their relationship to give Remy the time and space she needs to become an adult, regardless of whether she'll end up with him. In a world of Bellas and Annas giving up their world for Edwards and Christians, it was nice to see two young adults make some pretty responsible decisions.
But somewhere along the line, Dessen kind of lost me. And maybe this is a small nit to pick, but I just didn't really like Remy. I found her just a smidge unbelievable: a seventeen year old who is the only girl in the salon who knows how to handle the demanding women who come in, the girl who is not only responsible for her older brother and his daily life but also her mother's wedding(s), the girl who has saved thousands of dollars to drive across the country to go to college. I don't know. Maybe Remy just has her shit together more than I did at that age. Or maybe Remy just comes across as thinking she has her shit together. Maybe that's it: I'm old enough to know that just because she thinks she knows everything, she really doesn't.
I'm not Dessen's target audience, of course, and so I'm sure the things that bothered me about this novel wouldn't even occur to someone in the right demographic, so probably all this means is that I'm too old to be reading this genre. This Lullaby wasn't bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, and in writing this review I'm feeling more positive about the book, but it just didn't hit it out of the park like I expected it to.

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