I want to be Sarah Dessen.
I also want to be Agent 99, a secret ninja, and have the superhero ability to fly.
But I want to write like Sarah Dessen, whose books always amaze me, generally surprise me, and never fail to remind me that, gawd, I am such an amateur.
The first book of hers I read was The Truth About Forever, and my reasons for pulling it off the library shelf were multiple: for one thing I’d read through nearly everything else that interested me, for another it was thick and I thought it might take me longer than my standard one day to read. Also the title was pretty good.
I had no expectations. That’s always best, when jumping into something new: have no expectations. I was in ninth grade, hadn’t yet found the Wonderful World of Book Blogging, and none of my friends were readers, so I hadn’t heard of Sarah Dessen. I wasn’t even sure what genre the book in my hands was. It looked like a grown-up book (and those normally bored me) but it was shelved with the children’s books. So it could have been anything really.
By the end of the first chapter I was an emotional wreck. I get that way whenever I read about fictional dads who’ve died, especially when my own dad is jettisoning around the country as mine was then. It triggers some primal daughter-of-the-pilot response in me and I have to blare some music or watch You’ve Got Mail to keep from imagining planes crashing into the ground or buildings or the ocean or malfunctioning in some other catastrophic way. Macy’s relationship with her dad reminded me of my relationship with my dad and I had to credit Sarah Dessen for getting the dynamics right.
But I don’t like stories where the dad dies. They freak me out. For some reason quite by some massive accident I always wind up reading them while my own dad is flying over the ocean or something.
Still, by the end of the first chapter (and probably earlier) I was involved. It wasn’t just the writing – crisp, clear, and lyrical in its beauty – that captured me, it was also the fact that I had to keep reading. I had to make sure Macy was going to be okay. I felt myself tied up in Macy’s journey; I saw myself in her. The perfectionism, the insistence on doing things right, the relationship she had with her dad.
I loved that book.
After finishing it I read the rest of Sarah Dessen’s books. This Lullaby because I loved the title. Keeping the Moon because I read Sarah talk about it in an interview. Dreamland during my let’s-find-out-all-we-can-about-abusive-relationships research phase. Just Listen because it was the only Dessen book at my new school’s library (how is it even possible to only have one Dessen book in a library?). That Summer because it was her debut, and Lock and Key when my mom bought it for me the week it came out.
In each of the books I found connections between myself and the characters, between my life and their lives. I saw the scenes play out like movies in my mind and heard the words as if they were lyrics to overplayed, but nonetheless powerful, radio songs. To me, this is what Dessen has that I want desperately to learn: the secret to having breathtaking prose, interesting story, and fleshed-out, relatable characters coexisting peacefully in the same pages. It’s so much awesome.
Sarah Dessen: um, amazing? Is amazing a big enough word?
Jordyn is a contributor to the amazing book, Red: The Next Generation of American Writers – Teenage Girls – On What Fires Up Their Lives Today, which you should definitely all read. Jordyn’s got a wicked sense of humour and enough randomness to keep you entertained for days. So check out her blog, Ten Cent Notes.
Tomorrow: Amanda Ashby, author of Zombie Queen of Newbury High.