Title: Once and For All
Author: Sarah Dessen
Published in: 2017
Genres: romance, realistic fiction, contemporary fiction
“As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.
Louna, 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.
Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.”
I’ve read all of Sarah Dessen’s other novels and they’re some of my favorite books. I love the romances and the messages that they express about life. Many of them take place during the summer, which is something I like, since so many YA novels focus on high school and that gets boring after a while.
So after I finished reading Saint Anything two years ago (I originally read it when it came out in 2015, but I read it again this past spring), I couldn’t wait for her next book to come out. I was disappointed to find out that there was news of one yet at the time. Then when I heard about Once and For All, I immediately added it to my to-read list and waited for it to come out. Though, now that I’ve finally read it, I’m not sure I how I feel about it.
So Louna’s mother, Natalie Barrett, is a well-known wedding planner in their town of Lakeview and Louna works there during her summer breaks. As a result, Louna knows a lot about weddings. Well, the planning and organizing aspect side of them, but not so much the romantic side. Despite the business she works in, Louna is kind of cynical about the concept of true love and long-term relationships. It’s not that she never believed in happily ever after. She once had a nearly perfect relationship with her first boyfriend, Ethan. But her belief in happily ever after ended with Ethan’s death.
Now it’s the summer after high school and Louna can’t wait to start her freshman year of college. She’s tired of the wedding business and just wants to be done with it. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, she’s now co-workers with Ambrose, someone she wants absolutely nothing to do with. She thinks he’s annoying, careless, and irresponsible.
I thought this book was really slow. The romance didn’t really come until the very end of it and the friendship wasn’t recognized by both characters until nearly the end either. For a romance novel, I didn’t think it focused very much on romance. At least not the romance between Louna and Ambrose. Throughout the majority of the novel, they were dating other people as a part of a bet they made. Eventually Louna realized her relationship with Ambrose was more complicated, but wouldn’t admit she liked him and when the idea that he liked her was suggested, she quickly dismissed it. Only when she thought Ambrose had been hurt in an accident did she feel concerned for him and finally admitted how she felt. That wasn’t until the last few pages, though. For the 300+ pages this book had, I felt that more of them focused on the weddings they prepared for and worked at than the romance between Louna and Ambrose.
After thinking about it, I realized that the characters in Sarah Dessen’s other novels weren’t always quick to date and fall in love, but they did typically develop a clearer friendship early on.
Nearly every other chapter was a memory of the night Louna met Ethan and they fell in love, the time they spent long-distance, and the aftermath of his death. These chapters were much shorter than the ones in present time, but nevertheless I felt there was more time spent on the romance between Louna and Ethan than Louna and Ambrose.
I personally didn’t like this formatting either. I’ve read other books that have alternated between past and present, but I find it confusing for it to go back and forth like that. It makes it hard for me to follow what’s happening in both timelines and I constantly have to stop and think about what happened in that part of the timeline previously.
Then there’s Phone Lady, as Louna called her. We find out that she hadn’t actually been talking to anyone on the phone all along, but that was the last there was about her. I was left wanting to know why. Why did she talk to a dead phone in a coffee shop every day? I wish the book had wrapped that up instead of leaving it like that.
For the most part, Once and For All was enjoyable, but I thought Sarah Dessen’s other novels were better.
Rating: 4/5 Stars