Review: Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Once and for All book coverDessen is one of my favorite YA authors because she paints such realistic teens. Yes, they’re white and usually reasonably well off with mostly functional families around them. But still, she digs deep into their lives and makes even an average girl interesting.

Eighteen-year-old Louna Barrett is the daughter of a very successful wedding planner and works most of the weddings herself. She doesn’t necessarily love it but it’s what she knows and she’s good at it, and she only has to do it until she goes off to college. Louna is incredibly guarded, due to a tragedy that we know very little about for the first part of the book. When she meets Ambrose, she can’t stand him because he’s an irresponsible hassle. When her mom hires him to work for the company for the summer, Louna can’t believe it. She’s got to work with this idiot.

Louna and Ambrose first meet at his mother’s wedding, where she has to retrieve him for pictures with his mother and the rest of the family. Her first thought is that he’s really good-looking, but her second thought is that he was too annoying. She says:

He was like that upside-down exclamation point at the beginning of a sentence in Spanish, the mere appearance of which warned of something complicated ahead.

He’s outside flirting with a couple girls instead of inside where he needs to be, and Louna strong-arms him inside. Later he asks her to dance and makes it clear he’s interested in her even though she turns him down. So she isn’t happy to be stuck working with him, but she tries to make the best of it by offloading some of her work to him.

Once it gets going, the book alternates between the current day, where Louna’s dealing with Ambrose, and flashbacks to her time with Ethan, her first real love. We know something really bad happened to him and it takes a little while before we get the full story. Still, we know that Ethan was a great guy and it’s no wonder Louna can’t get over him and move on. In the present day, Louna and Ambrose make a bet that requires him to date just one girl for seven weeks and her to date multiple guys over the same period.

I have to admit that this wasn’t my favorite Dessen novel. I never really warmed up to Ambrose. I mean, it’s not like he was a horrible guy, but he did do some jerky things, even if sometimes it was passively—by not doing or saying something he should have. And Louna herself is a little on the bland side.

That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have strengths. A lot of people will love the background of all the weddings, and I admit even though I find weddings tedious, those elements were actually interesting to me because it went totally behind the scenes and aired some of the dirty laundry. And Louna’s best friend, Jilly, is entertaining and very likable. And supportive. Louna’s mom and her business partner, William, are both good characters, too.

So I’d definitely recommend this for Dessen’s fans, as well as anyone who really digs weddings.