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Creator / Sarah Dessen

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Sarah Dessen (born June 6, 1970) is a YA novelist from Evanston, Illinois whose novels mostly deal with the change in youth’s personality as they go through some form of tragedy or loss, comprising themes of isolation, emotional distance among family members, and a progressive change in personality. Both of her parents were professors at the University of North Carolina, and she grew up very shy and quiet. When she was 15, she became involved with a 21-year-old, for which she received one-sided blame from her parents.

After high school, Dessen was a student at Greensboro College in Greensboro, North Carolina but dropped out and later took classes at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, graduating with highest honors in Creative Writing. Afterwards, she waitressed at the restaurant Flying Burrito in Chapel Hill where she would write during the day and waitress at night. Her first book, That Summer, was published in 1996.

Her novel Along for the Ride made the New York Times Best Sellers List upon its release, and following the publication of Dreamland, Dessen taught at the University of North Carolina and wrote what would later become This Lullaby.

Some of her novels have also been among the ALA's "Best Fiction for Young Adults" selections: That Summer (1997), Someone Like You (1999), Keeping the Moon (2000), Dreamland(2001), This Lullaby (2003), Just Listen (2007), and Along for the Ride (2010). Someone Like You was also one of the two winners of the 1999 "School Library Journal Best Book" award, and Keeping the Moon was the sole winner the next year.

In 2017, Dessen was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Dreamland, Keeping the Moon, Just Listen, The Truth About Forever, Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye and This Lullaby.

Sarah Dessen's novels are, in order:

Sarah Dessen's works in general provide examples of:

  • Author Appeal:
    • Summer.
    • The beach.
    • Screwed up family situations.
    • A protagonist who bottles up all her feelings and emotions before finally releasing them over the course of the story.
  • Brand X:, an obvious parallel to Facebook, is mentioned in several of her novels.
    • There's also Park Mart and Big Club, which are not Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.
    • World of Waffles which is totally not Waffle House. Dessen even slips and calls it Waffle House in The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby.
    • HiThere! for Skype.
    • YumYums lollipops for DumDums lollipops.
    • GetThere for Uber or Lyft shows up in The Rest of the Story.
  • Catchphrase: Pick a Sarah Dessen novel. Any of them. In every single one of them, the phrase, "I just looked at him/her." will pop up. Also, female characters always seem to be tucking a piece of hair behind their ears.
  • Character Overlap: Frequently. The ones listed below are rare in how explicit the cameos are.
    • Scarlett from Someone Like You appears in This Lullaby as the manager of a local coffee shop.
    • Remy, Dexter, and the rest of Truth Squad from This Lullaby have an extended cameo in Just Listen.
    • Jason Talbot from Truth About Forever reappears in Along For the Ride and What Happened to Goodbye.
    • Heidi and Thisbe from Along For the Ride in What Happened to Goodbye.
    • Auden, Heidi, Maggie, and Esther from Along for the Ride show up in The Moon and More.
    • Any story taking place in Colby (Keeping the Moon, Along for the Ride, The Moon and More) is going to have a lot of overlap (like the Last Chance diner, Clementine's, Abe's Bikes, etc.)
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Although they still have her signature style, her early novels are quite different from the formula she would develop with her later novels. Most notable are That Summer, Someone Like You, and Dreamland.
  • Same Story, Different Names: A criticism of her novels. The girl has an annoying, messed up family situation, girl doesn't know how to deal with it, girl meets boy, boy fixes everything in girl's hypothetical world, and then there's always that moment when Girl and Boy are going to have a falling out, but they'll be back together by the end. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
    • It got to the point, though, that when they made a movie out of her stories they went ahead and just combined two of the books.
    • Almost all of her protagonists fall into two categories: the quiet Type A perfectionist (Macy, Auden, Annabel, Emaline, Sydney) or the cynical rebel (Remy, Ruby, Louna to an extent).
    • The Moon and More does make some noticeable changes to the formula, specifically Emaline having to choose between Theo and Luke, and picking neither, and apparently Sarah Dessen got some flack for changing up the formula too much.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Part of why people claim her books are just Same Story, Different Names.
    • Maggie from Along for the Ride is very similar to Lissa from This Lullaby.
    • Kirsten and Whitney from Just Listen are very similar to Kristy and Monica from The Truth About Forever especially as they're both described as attractive blonde sisters with a rocky history. Kristen and Kristy are both outgoing, popular and have a huge Motor Mouth while Whitney and Monica are quiet loners.
      • Layla and Rosie from Saint Anything also have a Kirsten and Whitney dynamic.
    • All her protagonists are similar but Emaline has some major similarities to Macy.
    • Mclean and her novel What Happened to Goodbye? have a lot of similarities to Haven and her novel That Summer.
      • Mclean's mother has a lot similar to Haven's dad in That Summer (has a high profile affair, marries and starts a family with them) and Colie's mom from Keeping the Moon (goes from normal down-to-Earth mom to high-profile person with status, including going by a different name (Colie's mom went by Katherine but now goes by Kiki while Mclean's mom went by Katie and now goes by Katherine)).
    • Saint Anything is similar to Dreamland and The Truth About Forever.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The exact location of her novel's settings are never revealed, it is even obscured by using made-up names for universities.
    • Various clues point toward Lakeview and Colby being in North Carolina, which is also where Dessen lives. In The Moon and More, Emaline's father mentions driving south through Virginia to get to Colby.
      • But has been a little inconsistent across novels: there's a throwaway line in Once And For All that implies Lakeview is in California.