If you’ve read any of my previous reviews (I’ll be importing all of my Fangirlish and Booknista review links in the coming week), you’ll know that I love Sarah Dessen. She was the author who first turned me on to reading contemporary YA, to reading about young love, and to then writing about those things. Her books defined my high school career, and I’ve read every single one. So you can probably guess how excited I was to hear that she had a NEW contemporary YA coming out this summer, AND that she was going to be at BookCon! I thought she might be done after Saint Anything. There was something about that book that was personal and heart-wrenching, and I thought she might cap her career with it.
I’m very glad she didn’t.
Once and For All is billed to be about a girl who works for her mother, a famed area wedding planner. Louna is organized and strong and ready to be in college. Her high school graduation is one of the first things that happens in the book. But she is resistant to love – she’s only ever seen bad examples of it. Her parents split when she was very young. Her mother’s business partner has never stayed with one person for long. And then there was her own first love…
Okay, I’m about to start crying.
Here’s what the blurbs don’t tell you. This book isn’t about wedding planning. This isn’t really about weddings at all, and it’s not even about Ambrose (the love interest, because every Sarah Dessen book has a love interest). It’s about Louna’s healing process. It’s about Louna’s growth. It’s about Louna moving on. I want to spoil this so badly because I was wrecked when I found out what happened, but I won’t until later in this review (and I’ll warn y’all before I do).
3 Things I Loved
- Louna. I’m always on board for a Sarah Dessen protagonist, and Louna is no exception. I loved her character. She’s seen some shit, she’s been through some shit, and she has the ability to be poised and organized through all of it. I loved watching her grow. I want to reach into the pages and give her a hug.
- Ethan. *WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD* I loved Ethan instantly. I also could tell pretty much right away that this was going to be more than a breakup for Louna. I could just tell. I knew Ethan was going to die, and I broke inside because of it through every single flashback chapter. I craved those chapters and I hated them. Thinking about this book, about this relationship, brings me near tears, and I read this two months ago.
- William and Natalie’s relationship. William and Natalie run the wedding planning business, and their friendship and business relationship give me life. They’re both supportive of each other and are sweet and cynical and sarcastic, and goodness, they’re my faves.
Well. There’s the typical Dessen whiteness in the book – I don’t think there was a single character of color in here. I don’t love that, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to forgive as she continues to write books. But that’s not what stood out to me here.
There was nothing about the fact that this book dives deeply into A SCHOOL SHOOTING in any of the cover copy, in any of the blurbs, in ANYTHING. I’m not saying I would have avoided this book had I known, but COME ON. That shit is real, and it hits close to home for a lot of people. I’ve read the books, I’ve been in school when these things have happened, I’ve heard the stories. I’m thankful I don’t have a closer experience to it than that, but I still broke into cold sweats during parts of this book. I still wanted to put it in the freezer at one point. I struggled, even knowing how it ended. I wanted more for Ethan, more for Louna. And I hate that this is a thing, a plot point. I hate that kids have to have active shooter drills while they’re in a place of learning. I hate wondering what I would have done if a gun was pointed at me. Would I have run, or would I have protected others?
This book will make you confront that shit. And it might be good, or it might not be, but I feel like it should have been in something. In any case: Content/Trigger Warning for school shooting.
A reminder of the rating scale:
- Red = DNF, I hated everything
- Orange = Ugh, no thank you
- Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
- Green = This was good, but not something I’d reread
- Blue = Oh my gosh, everyone should be reading this book
- Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart
I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to rate this book in the two months since I’ve read it. I gave it five stars on Goodreads in the raw moments after finishing it, but I’m not sure I can directly correlate that to my blog rating scale. After a lot of thought, I’m going to give Once and For All a GREEN rating. I might reread it, but I don’t think this book is for everyone. It tackles some shit. If you like Dessen and think you can handle all of this, I do recommend it. It’s good. But it’s also rough. And you’ll miss Ethan. You will.
A very special thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for granting my wish and providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not color my opinion in any way, and I’ve actually purchased two copies of this book since then – one for my shelf, and one that I gave away to a Twitter follower.