Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Along for the Ride (again) - Sarah Dessen
This first picture is, of course, the cover of the book, but the second picture is a photo I took of my cat Hummer with the book to make this poster that hangs outside the library. I thought it was so fun how the bike in the photo with Hummer (just one that was parked in my neighborhood) nearly matched the bike on the cover. I couldn't resist doing the photo, but I have to say, Hummer was not too pleased about it. He whined and cried the whole time we were doing it. It turned out great, though, didn't it?!
This book came out this summer, and of course I read it the first week it was out (thanks again, Ms. Frisk). IF you want to see that review, go here. But now I read it again, a little more slowly. I've been preparing for a talk I'm going to give to other librarians later this year by trying to find read-alikes. You know, books that are kind of like other books, so if you like book A, then maybe you'll like book B, too. So anyway, whenever I read a book now, I'm thinking of it in terms of what other books are like it. And because Sarah Dessen is so popular in my library, she's one I'm really thinking hard about. What makes her so popular? What is it about her books that's so special, and what other authors might have a little of that magic in their writing that I could recommend to students who've now read and re-read all of Sarah's books? so that's kind of what I'm going to focus on in this entry as opposed to the story itself. You can go to that other entry for that.
As I thought about it, there are a few things that came to mind. One is voice. Another is tension. A third is romance.
Sarah Dessen characters always have very strong voices. Sarah's books always have a main female character, and that's the character who does most of the talking and the character readers know the best. Most of the stories (all? I can't remember and of course there are none on the shelves for me to check) are told in first person, allowing us deep into the minds of these young women, all of whom have difficult situations to deal with. And when I say deep into the minds, I mean the girls do deep thinking, but they don't always start out that way. In fact, as I think about it, they often start out avoiding thinking about their issues. Or at least they're only thinking about them superficially. As they go through the story, they are moved by different situations and different people to focus on their issues,and it's always a journey. Through it all, their personal voice shines through, making them seem like real people, not just characters in a book. Interestingly, I felt that Auden, the main character in Along for the Ride, had a lot of Sarah Dessen's personal voice as well. I read her blog all the time, and it was funny to hear Sarah coming through, just in some personal mannerisms. Like how Sarah and Auden both say, "Really?" It's kind of funny. Her minor characters nearly always have very clear voices as well, and they add a great deal to the story, in voice but in plot development as well. So strong voice is one thing that Sarah Dessen's books definitely have.
Another element that her books have is tension. Now most books have some tension. Books are generally boring without it. But the tension seems to me a little more real in her books than in some others. You're just not sure how or if it's going to wok out right up until the end of the story. You know how you think it should go, how you want it to go, but you just don't know if that's what will happen. I never skip ahead to the end of a story, I mean never, but when I get into one of her books, I'm so unsure of what will happen and so sure of what I think should happen, I am sorely tempted. I get so invested in her characters that I feel my heart start to beat faster, I feel my blood pressure rise. when I read books about other characters, even when I'm interested in their story, I'm not often physically stressed. I cry in other books, which interestingly I rarely have with a Sarah Dessen book, but its not the same. I think Laurie Halse Anderson builds a similar kind of tension in her recent novel Wintergirls, and the recent book by Amy Efaw called After did this to me as well, but it's a rare skill. I think it's kind of interesting that I'm still a little anxious even when I'm RE-reading one of Sarah Dessen's books, even though I already know the outcome. Hmmmm. What does that say about me do you think? I blame Sarah!
The third thing that Sarah Dessen does remarkably well and that girls especially like (me included) is romance. First off, she always has male characters you just know are cute. She might tell you that, or other characters might tell you that (sa-woon), but in any case, you know it. She never overdoes romance. It's not all googly eyes or sicky-sweet, and it's not trashy or sleazy, either. Usually it's a bit of a rough go for the characters, too, at least some of the time. I appreciate this, because relationships are hard sometimes, especially when you're young and a little less experienced in dealing with people and emotions. Books that show relationships as easy all the time aren't giving a true picture of life, and I think they're setting readers up to hope for and expect scenarios that might be pretty impossible in real life.
So what are some Sarah Dessen read-alikes you could recommend? I'm always on the lookout. Let me know what you think.
Have a great day everyone.