Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

*Last summer I made it my mission to read all 12 of Sarah Dessen’s books in a series I called Summer Sundays with Sarah. You can click HERE to see my full wrap up. I’m happy to say Dessen has released her 13th book this month, which I review below!

“But really, in a perfect wedding–or world– you wanted the best possible beginning. Start on a high note and, no matter what song follows, chances are just better that it will be music to your ears.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsLouna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Feelings: I think that Dessen made a lot of smart choices in this storyline. The way the story was structured was the best way to let us slowly understand Louna as her understanding of herself grew as well. Events in Louna’s past shaped her and impacted her at multiple points in the story, so it was great to go  back to those moments and see how it all came together. I also really appreciated that we saw multiple love stories going on and that they all came together in different ways. No couple had the same experience, so it was really refreshing.

Also refreshing? The wedding planning. This was so fun to read about and to see all the different kinds of brides and weddings.

Issues: Something I think all of Dessen’s books have in common is that they’re slow to get started. It always takes me a few chapters to really get hooked in and invested and that was true with this book. However, Dessen goes back and forth in time every other chapter, making it even trickier for me to catch on. It just took a little while, but I was into the rhythm before I made it to the halfway point.

Even though we had a lot of love stories all woven into one, the main storyline got jipped. I wish we’d gotten to see these two characters actually together for a lot longer than the last chapter.

Jilly felt like a useless character. She adds to the conflict at the end, but that’s seriously her only purpose. It just seemed like she was there because Louna needed a best friend.

Finally, I wish we’d gone a little deeper into the school shooting conflict. It seemed like she never got any kind of help. The only side of it that we got was what related to Ethan. I wonder how the story would have been if we’d chosen ONE major conflict for Louna to navigate through, rather than her juggling one in the past and one in the present, mostly unrelated.

Characters: Louna reminds me of a few other Dessen heroines, but she still has her own unique experiences. As the reader, I could totally understand why Louna was so guarded. I was able to empathize with her and root for her to heal. We were set up at the end to guess how her healing could continue, but I maybe would have loved a smidge more resolution for her.

I didn’t like Ambrose at first. I think it’s because I was limited to Louna’s point of view, so because she was annoyed by him in the beginning, I was, too. It really didn’t take long for my opinion of him to change, though. I think he really matured over the course of the summer that we spend with him. He not only starts to see Louna differently, but himself and his abilities, too. I like that this book wasn’t just about growth for Louna.

Louna’s mom and William were a really great set of parental figures. We haven’t seen a pair quite like these two in Dessen’s other books, so it was kind of a breath of fresh air. We didn’t see failure parents or rocky relationships between daughter and adults, which I liked. This was a modern family experience and I thought it was fresh and enjoyable to read.  These two parental characters kind of took the place of a big friend group, in my opinion. I’m glad Louna had a couple of friends and these parents, rather than a big group. That would have just been too much.

Connections: If you’ve read Dessen’s books before, then you know that they all exist in the same “world”. It’s our world, but we sometimes see characters from other books interact or go to the same places. These are some of the connections I made. I’m not listing out which books these references are from, though. If you’ve read Dessen’s books before, you’ll recognize them! Otherwise, they’ll mean nothing and you can skip them. Ha!

  • In this book, our characters talk about going to Bendo.
  • The wedding crew plans a wedding that takes place in Colby.
  • Louna sees a sign in Colby that reads, “WHO NEEDS TRAFFIC? RENT A BIKE FROM ABE’S!”
  • Bee says that she attended Defriese.
  • Louna and Ethan go for pie in the middle of the night at see a “dark-haired boy and his girlfriend, clearly regulars” and the girl was wearing a Clementine’s t-shirt (Eli and Auden). They recommend World of Waffles to Louna and Ethan.
  • Louna tells Ethan that when he goes to Lakeview, she’ll take him to Luna Blu for friend pickles. She also mentions an Angel statue made with bottle caps that spin when the wind blows.
  • Ben linked Louna to his Ume.com page.

Final thoughts: It’s Sarah Dessen, so I’m going to read it and I’m going to like it. In terms of Dessen’s other books, this one was kind of on the same level as Saint Anything. I liked it, but there was a lot going on. I don’t know that all conflicts were justified in the end. If you like Sarah Dessen’s other books, then definitely pick this one up. If you’ve never read Dessen before, I wouldn’t suggest starting here. I always recommend reading her books in publication order.

Goodreads rating: 3.97/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.2/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

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4 thoughts on “Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

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