Last month my 13 year old asked me to read her favorite book The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen and gave me a list of Dessen books she wanted for Christmas.
“That won’t happen.” I said.
“Because you know I don’t believe in buying books–order them from the library.”
So she did, and thus began our Sarah Dessen binge. I have now read Sarah Dessen’s entire cannon of 10 YA books. And I have to say I enjoyed the ride.
I’ve heard it said that romance novels are women’s porn. If what gets us going is the perfect love, the perfect romance, being pursued and desired even if you’re plain and unremarkable, these books got it all. Literary fiction just doesn’t provide the same bang for the buck (or rental).
In the Dessen books, the vast majority of male love interests are teenage rebels who’ve dealt with their dead parent/broken home/alienated father/etc. and can love and support the female protagonist perfectly, helping her work through her own issues with her dead parent/broken home/anorexic sister/alienated mother/etc. Kinda sorta unrealistic, don’t you think?
But love wins. Healing happens. Hope abounds.
What I like about Dessen’s novels, unlike chick lit I grew up with, is that none of the main characters depend on a boy to make their lives perfect or give them an identity (except maybe the girl who gets abused, and in her case she has deeper issues going on). They’re not looking for someone who will support them financially. They certainly aren’t after an “M-R-S” degree (a new male acquaintance during freshman new student week at Northwestern asked me if that’s what I was at school for–I didn’t even know what he was talking about for several minutes).
Even in this current era, an era where my girls have the privilege of seeing their lives and futures full of all possibilities, an era where thus far at least, they’ve never been taunted for being a smart girl, a talented girl, a girl who has “boy” strengths instead of “girl” strengths, something deep inside still yearns for a Prince Charming who will love them unconditionally. Who will complete them.
Some say that all stories lead us back to the ultimate story, the story of a God who loves us, seeks after us–even to the point of dying for us, and will never let us go. A God who chooses us despite our plainness, or bad eyes, or even worse hair. For men, the story may be the hero’s journey. For women, it might be the great romance.
So while I’ve enjoyed reading Sarah Dessen’s books, what I’ve really appreciated are the conversation openers they’ve afforded with my daughter:
- What would you do if your boyfriend hit you? (Dreamland)
- How are you tempted to change yourself from place to place to fit in? (What Happened to Goodbye?)
- And of course, what are the consequences of sex, drugs and dysfunctional friendships? (all the books)
She doesn’t often want long conversations, but just starting on a topic helps. And getting into her head by reading her books is good for our relationship.
As for me? It’s been nice to have a little love, hope and romance bringing in the new year.